Taking the oxygen out of organized crime: Three-quarters of Ontarians want tougher penalties for illegal tobacco traffickers

NCACT: 1 in 3 cigarettes purchased in Ontario is illegal; Ontario well behind other provinces as black market for cigarettes reaches critical level that has not been seen for decades

TORONTO, Nov. 19, 2015 /CNW/ - Many people are unaware that the rising sale of illegal tobacco has reached a critical level in Ontario – one that has not been seen in decades. While Ontario is starting to take strides to remedy this situation, the well-financed organized crime groups that are actively bringing guns and drugs into the province have led Ontario to have the worst illegal cigarette problem in Canada. And when Ontarians learn the facts around this issue, the majority express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and are demanding more action be taken - including tougher penalties for illegal tobacco traffickers and added powers and funding for law enforcement.

Conducted on behalf of The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT), this Ontario provincial survey, entitled The Guns and Drugs in Our Backyards: What Ontarians Don't Know About Illegal Tobacco, reveals the need for greater awareness and action around this important and dangerous public safety issue.

"Organized crime has carved out an increasing share of profits from the sale of illegal cigarettes over the last decade and much of that is being reinvested into guns and drug trafficking," explains NCACT spokesperson Gary Grant, a 39-year veteran of the Toronto Police Services and founder of Toronto Crime Stoppers. "This issue is making a mockery of tobacco regulation and helping fuel the gun and drug trafficking that impacts communities, families and cities across the province, including the GTA."

Almost half of Ontarians unaware that illegal tobacco is fueling gun and drug trafficking
At the outset of the survey, almost half of the population (46 per cent) was not concerned about the sale of illegal tobacco in their communities and most said they knew either very little or nothing about the issue. Just over half of the population (51%) was unsure if illegal tobacco was linked to organized crime. Once they were informed that funds raised from the sale from illegal tobacco were fueling gang activity, respondent concern jumped by 30 points to 76 per cent. Most Ontarians polled (88 per cent) were also concerned when informed that the RCMP has reported that profits from illegal tobacco help fund the movement of drugs and weapons. After discussing these facts, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) were in support of investing more public funds and police resources to combat organized crime's trafficking of illegal tobacco and 75 per cent support tougher penalties for traffickers.

1 in 3 cigarettes in Ontario is illegal: highest of any province across Canada
The problem in Ontario is especially severe, with the results from the NCACT contraband tobacco monitoring survey revealing one in three cigarettes purchased is illegal, in comparison to other provinces and countries where only about one in 10 cigarettes purchased is illegal.  The sale of illegal tobacco in Ontario is fueled by many things, including misconceptions about 'legal' purchase of cigarettes from reserves, insufficient enforcement and penalties, the involvement of organized crime and cost. The price of a taxed (legal) carton of cigarettes in Ontario is $88.64, while the sale of the same number of illegal cigarettes can cost as little as $6 to $20.

About 50 illegal factories in Ontario & Quebec able to produce up to 10,000 cigarettes/minute
The RCMP has estimated there are as many as 50 illegal factories in Ontario and Quebec operating outside of any government regulation that are able to produce up to 10,000 cigarettes each minute. "With the emergence of illegal factories and the distribution of illegal tobacco by organized crime, this is a much different and larger problem than it has been in past decades. Awareness is a critical first step in addressing this, not just among consumers but among the public and government. We must all work together to stop the production and sale of illegal tobacco to help keep our communities safe," says Grant.

Ontario has taken some steps; other provinces (particularly Quebec) taking leadership roles
This year, Ontario took control of raw-leaf production to better monitor and control leaves intended for the legitimate industry. However, the province still has room to take measures as tough as those in Quebec, which gives funding and added powers to local and regional law enforcement agencies.  Quebec has reduced contraband's share of the market to about 15 per cent (roughly half of the share of market in Ontario) through a coordinated effort among multiple law enforcement agencies across the province.

Illegal tobacco in Canada: 3 billion cigarettes and $75 million in pure profit each year
With one estimate from researchers at Carleton University stating that this industry pulls in $75 million in pure profit a year, the production and sale of illegal cigarettes is a highly lucrative enterprise – one that according to the RCMP benefits approximately 175 organized crime groups and gangs in Canada, nearly half of which are based in Central Canada. In Ontario alone the market could represent billions of illegal cigarettes per year, perhaps as much as 15 million cartons, supporting criminal organizations that according to the RCMP are also mostly involved in drug and gun-related criminal activity.  

Ad campaign to raise awareness of this critical public safety issue among Ontarians in GTA
Earlier this month, the NCACT launched an advertising campaign in Ontario to drive awareness of the production, distribution and sale of illegal tobacco and the impact it has on local communities across the province. The campaign will run through November and involves print, radio, online and social ads, as well as Facebook and Twitter. To learn more about the facts linking organized crime to the sale of illegal tobacco, visit StopIllegalTobacco.ca. To join the discussion on Twitter, use the hashtag #StopIllegalTobacco.

About the survey
The survey findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,127 Ontarians conducted by The Gandalf Group. The sample of randomly selected Ontarians was proportionate to gender, age and regional distribution of the provincial population, and included an oversample in the Greater Toronto Area. The survey was conducted from June 18–30, 2015 in English.

About the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT)
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 are: Association des détaillants en alimentation du Québec (ADA), Association des marchands dépanneurs et épiciers du Québec (AMDEQ), Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA), Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ), Customs and Immigration Union, Échec au crime Québec, Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ), National Capital Area Crime Stoppers, Frontier Duty Free Association (FDFA), National Convenience Stores Distributors Association (NACDA), Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Retail Council of Canada, Toronto Crime Stoppers and United Korean Commerce and Industry Association (UKCIA). Visit stopillegaltobacco.ca for more information.

SOURCE The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT)

Image with caption: "Illegal cigarettes buy guns. Guns Kill. (CNW Group/The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20151119_C3417_PHOTO_EN_549229.jpg

For further information: Denise Gagnon, 416-220-6489, dgagnon@broadreachcommunications.com

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