Tobacco Sellers Fume Over Spread of Illegal CigarettesBrantford Expositor (December 2, 2008)
- Tobacco retailers expressed frustration Monday at the cline of their cigarette sales, while illegal smoke shops thrive in settings outside of the Six Nations reserve.
"On Highway 6 between Caledonia and Hagersville there's at least half a dozen smoke shops," one retailer complained to an RCMP officer at the Best Western Brant Park Inn, following a presentation on issues surrounding contraband tobacco. "They're not on native land. Why aren't they being shut down?"
Const. Morris Rumbolt of the Niagara detachment explained that the RCMP is quite aware of the existence of the shops, but said there are a number of issues that work against an immediate crackdown, including jurisdiction and manpower.
"It's not a local issue," he told the crowd of about 40, many of whom drove to the forum from other municipalities in southwestern Ontario. Communities near other reserves in Ontario and Quebec are also affected -- "there are literally hundreds of smoke shops."
He said the RCMP, following the dictates of the 2008 Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Strategy, has opted instead to use its "finite resources" to target the "criminal groups" which supply the contraband retailers.
"Our focus is on the larger groups and the larger (illegal) shipments of tobacco," he said. "Enforcement is not the only solution ... (chasing smoke huts) becomes a cat-and-mouse game. It has to be much broader than enforcement alone."
Rumbolt also made it clear that native-sold and produced contraband tobacco is only part of the problem. Illegal tobacco products enter Canada from other countries, as well, primarily the United States and China. He explained that illegal cigarette distribution is a big business in Canada, because the profit margin is so huge.
One bust he was recently part of involved a dump truck with a few inches of mulch concealing a false ceiling. Under that ceiling were 118 cases of contraband cigarettes, each with a resale value of about $1,000.
And the number of contraband smokers continues to grow.
Forum moderator Dave Bryans, president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, said one three-week study showed more than 48 per cent of Canadian smokers had consumed a contraband product in that time.SENIORS, TEENS TARGETED
Price-conscious consumers such as seniors and teens are greatly affected, he added. Sellers of illegal tobacco target retirement homes and schools, and one recent study showed 36 per cent of identifiable cigarette butts found just outside high school grounds came from contraband sources.
The loss to legitimate retailers is enormous, he said, and so is the loss of billions of potential tax dollars.
Bryans said there is no one solution, but he urged forum participants to call their MPs and MPPs to lobby for tougher legislation.
One of the issues is that the RCMP is only one player on the enforcement and control side. Other federal agencies with stakes in controlling tobacco sales include Revenue Canada, Health Canada and Canada Border Services; provincially, the revenue ministry also has a stake. At the local government level, Bryans added, retailers can urge their local health units and tobacco inspectors to get involved in harassing illegal smoke shops.
Getting all these players to work together will be difficult, he acknowledged, but it must be done.
Fred Browning, who owns the Pioneer Gas Bar at Henry Street and Wayne Gretzky Parkway, said the authorities have been providing no support at all. He suggested a little civil disobedience is in order.
"All in one day, we should take down the cover-ups" which provincial law has mandated retailers put over the so-called cigarette power walls. "We've got to take action; we can't just pussyfoot around."
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