/C O R R E C T I O N from source -- Imperial Tobacco Canada/

Please note that the press release c8876 transmitted at 16:56e today has been updated. Revised copy follows:

Letter to the Editor from Imperial Tobacco Canada - "World No Tobacco Day"


By John Clayton
Vice-President, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs
Imperial Tobacco Canada

"World No Tobacco Day" is celebrated every year on May 31.  No doubt, politicians across the country will once again this year join anti-tobacco activists under the campaign banner of a Tobacco Free World.  After all, isn't beating up on Big Tobacco and Canadian smokers always viewed as an easy political win?

But when the photo-ops finish this week, Imperial Tobacco Canada, the nation's largest legal tobacco company, has a more difficult question to ask our nation's policy makers:  do you have a clear and comprehensive tobacco control strategy that recognizes the dual realities of Canada's legal and illegal tobacco markets, and also considers the potential unintended consequences of failed "good" policies given the emergence of a thriving black market?

Those of us who work in the legal tobacco industry do not see such a strategy. In fact, here's what we do see:

+ We see provincial governments, with inexplicable disregard for basic market principles, pushing tobacco taxes well past the tipping point, and creating attractive black market conditions for low-priced, untaxed illegal "baggies" of 200 cigarettes that often sell for as little as one-tenth the price of 200 legal cigarettes.

+ We see scaremongering anti-tobacco lobbyists warning of the dangers of Big Tobacco's covert marketing activities even though display and promotional bans have been in place for almost 10 years in some provinces.  (Please seriously ask yourself, when was the last time you actually saw a legal tobacco product openly displayed in a retail store?)

+ We see local health units sending dressed-up teenage 'mystery shoppers' to test and entrap clerks in law-abiding neighborhood convenient stores, while turning a blind eye to the hundreds of smoke-shacks, where promotions like 'free hockey tickets' are advertised openly to consumers.

+ We see the federal government stubbornly spending six years and millions of taxpayer dollars on developing an outmoded and impractical excise stamp system designed to differentiate legal from illegal products, when everyone knows that the illegal products, being sold in transparent "baggies", are easily identifiable.

+ We see Health Canada proposing new regulations to increase the size of the graphic health warning from 50% to 75% on legal cigarette packs, when the ubiquitous illegal products, which make up nearly half of all cigarettes in some markets, carry no health warning at all.

+ We see law enforcement seizing thousands of illegal cigarettes every week while conceding that billions more are trafficked off First Nations reserves throughout the country by more than 175 organized crime groups, with shipments frequently finding their way into the hands of children

We know that many readers will not agree with our views on this situation. Some will likely accuse us of trying to deflect attention from our own troubles.  Others may even suggest that government needs to address BOTH the legal and illegal markets.  Fair enough.  But does anyone truly believe that the nation's policy makers have meaningful solutions to the new tobacco reality of today?  Does anyone believe that governments have the political will to address publicly the source of the problem: the more than 50 illegal factories and over 300 smoke-shacks on First Nations land?   Unfortunately, we remain doubtful and without action these numbers will only increase in future years.

Politicians see tobacco as an easy win. We ask them to open their eyes and see that the real tobacco problem in Canada is not the regulated and enforced legal industry, where already over 200 laws and regulations exist, but rather the unregulated and growing illegal black market.  Times have changed and tobacco control must change too.   If not, government may succeed in handing over the tobacco trade to the underground and criminal market - a free-for-all market that is unregulated, unenforced and untaxed.


For further information:

Éric Gagnon
Manager, External Affairs
514-932-6161 extension 2113

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