OTTAWA, March 26th, 2015 /CNW/ - With today's release of the Alberta budget, the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) is concerned that the government's decision to increase tobacco taxes risks fueling contraband tobacco in the province.
"Alberta should be mindful of the hard lessons that other Canadian jurisdictions have learned by ignoring contraband tobacco," said Gary Grant, a 39-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service and national spokesperson for the NCACT. "Ontario and Quebec created a fertile environment for the illegal cigarette trade to flourish, and are now home to hundreds of illegal smoke shacks and dozens of illegal cigarette factories. By not acting early, the problem has entrenched in these provinces and become needlessly difficult to solve. Alberta is not immune to this trend: an attempt to establish smoke shacks in the province, including 6 million illegal cigarettes, is still working through the courts."
Contraband tobacco is any tobacco product that does not follow all provincial and federal regulations or does not pay all required excise taxes. Illegal cigarettes are often sold in resealable plastic bags of 200 sticks. These "baggies" can cost as little as $8 each, about $80 less than legal product in Alberta. They are often sold directly to consumers through a drug dealer system; there are also more than 300 "smoke shacks" that illegally sell contraband in nearby major communities in Ontario and Quebec.
"Illegal cigarettes fund organized crime," continued Grant. "The RCMP estimates that there are about 175 criminal gangs in Canada that use profits from contraband tobacco as a cash cow to finance their other activities, including guns, drugs and human smuggling. Its low price and easy accessibility make it a key source for youth smoking. In fact, a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that contraband tobacco was a factor in stubbornly high youth-smoking rates."
There are 50 illegal cigarette factories operating in Canada, each capable of producing as many as 10,000 cigarettes a minute. The high-profits of the trade have allowed criminals to look beyond Ontario and Quebec, the epicentre of the problem, and into the Maritime and Prairie Provinces.
"Ontario and Quebec provide an important case study in what happens when you create an environment where contraband tobacco can flourish, but do nothing to stop it. As with anything, stopping an entrenched problem is harder than preventing one in the first place," concluded Grant. "Alberta should be mindful of this and not let contraband tobacco get out of control in the first place."
The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco is a Canadian advocacy group formed with the participation of businesses, organizations and individuals concerned about the growing danger of contraband cigarettes. NCACT members share the goals of working together to educate people and urge government to take quick action to stop this growing threat.
The members of the NCACT include: Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA), Retail Council of Canada, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, National Convenience Stores Distributors Association (NACDA), Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Frontier Duty Free Association, Fédération des Chambres de Commerce du Québec (FCCQ), Conseil du Patronat du Québec (CPQ), l'Association des marchands dépanneurs et épiciers du Québec (AMDEQ), Toronto Crime Stoppers, Quebec Association of Food , Quebec Crime Stoppers, The Customs & Immigration Union (CIU), the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
SOURCE National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT)
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