Media Release

Federal budget delivers much needed extension to EI; makes major gains in tobacco control


The Canadian Cancer Society is pleased to see several important measures introduced in today's federal budget that will help to prevent cancer and support those living with the disease. The 2021 Federal budget delivers a much-needed extension of the Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefit to support people facing the financial burden that comes with a cancer diagnosis. The budget also includes significant tobacco control measures through tobacco tax increase and an e-cigarette tax, as well as significant funding for palliative care and pediatric cancer research.

For the hundreds of thousands of Canadians living with cancer, financial burden and illness are a day-to-day reality. The issue has only been heightened as a result of COVID-19 and supports for those with cancer have never been needed more. 

“Extending the EI sickness benefit is a strong start and will have a major impact on the lives of those living with cancer,” says Kelly Masotti, Vice President of Advocacy at the Canadian Cancer Society. “We commend the government for making this important investment so no one is forced to choose between a paycheque and cancer treatment.” 

The average length of treatment for people with breast and colon cancer—two of the most commonly diagnosed cancers for Canadians—ranges between 26 and 37 weeks. Currently, a caregiver receives more time off (26 weeks) under the Compassionate Care Benefit to care for someone with cancer than the person with cancer receives themselves. Today’s announcement is the first time the EI sickness benefit has been updated since it was introduced in the early 1970s.  Extending the length of the EI sickness benefit has now brought it into alignment with the amount of paid time off given to caregivers through the compassionate care benefit.

CCS has long advocated for an extension of the EI sickness benefit to ensure people living with cancer have more paid time off work to heal and recover from their treatment. Results from a 2021 Ipsos poll show strong support from Canadians: 88% support an extension to at least 26 weeks while 84% support an extension to 50 weeks.

CCS will continue to work with the government and all parties to build on this historic investment so that even more people can access the financial supports they need to thrive through their diagnosis and treatment. 

Major gains in tobacco control

The Canadian Cancer Society also commends the significant measures for cancer prevention and tobacco control in this budget. Measures committed to in Budget 2021 include an increase in tobacco taxes of $4.00 per carton of 200 cigarettes, and implementation of a tax on e-cigarettes.

“Higher tobacco taxes are the most effective strategy to reduce youth smoking,” says Masotti. “Most smokers began to smoke as teenagers, which is why it is crucial to prevent youth from ever starting to smoke. The tobacco tax increase in the budget will have an important health impact. 

CCS is pleased with the government's intention to introduce a new tax for e-cigarettes. "A federal tax on e-cigarettes is essential to reduce youth vaping, which has increased dramatically,” adds Masotti. “We have made such progress at reducing youth smoking. We do not want to see a new generation of youth becoming addicted to nicotine, but unfortunately that is exactly what is in process of happening.”

In just four years, youth vaping in Canada has more than tripled. Data from the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey found that for students in grades 10-12, vaping increased from 9% in the 2014-15 school year, to 15% in 2016-17 to 29% in 2018-19.

The Canadian Cancer Society has for several years advocated for stronger e-cigarette measures as a means to protect youth and benefit public health. The new federal e-cigarette tax builds on recent federal regulations restricting e-cigarette advertising, draft regulations to set a maximum nicotine level in e-cigarettes, and regulations being developed to restrict e-cigarette flavours.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, killing 45,000 Canadians annually, including about 30% of all cancer deaths. Based on 2019 data, there are still 4.7 million Canadians who smoke, representing 15% of the population aged 12+. An enormous amount of work needs to be done to reduce youth smoking and vaping and to achieve the objective of under 5% of Canadians using tobacco by 2035.

Much needed investments in palliative care

CCS is pleased with the government’s announcement to provide nearly $30 million over six years to advance the palliative care strategy. The investment is intended to provide Canadians with better palliative and end-of-life care, including culturally sensitive care. CCS has long advocated for better access to affordable, high-quality palliative care, regardless of where they live and where they choose to receive care. “All Canadians should have access to the best care for them throughout their cancer journey and we look forward to working with the government on the advancement of the palliative care strategy,” says Masotti.

We are pleased to see additional investments to fund pediatric cancer research. Research to date has led to new and more effective treatments for childhood cancers and additional research funding will continue to support an increase in the number of children who survive into adulthood.

About the Canadian Cancer Society

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is the only national charity that supports Canadians with all cancers in communities across the country. No other organization does what we do; we are the voice for Canadians who care about cancer. We fund groundbreaking research, provide a support system for all those affected by cancer and shape health policies to prevent cancer and support those living with the disease.

For more information, please contact:

Nuala McKee

Manager, Advocacy Communications
Canadian Cancer Society