Health groups launch campaign for action on tobacco contraband

    OTTAWA, April 24 /CNW/ - 70 national, provincial and local agencies today
called for vigorous federal and provincial action to cut off the supply of
tobacco contraband at source.
    "There is no way that police enforcement action alone, with existing
tools, will be sufficient to control the growing tobacco contraband market,"
says Dr. Ian Gemmill, Medical Officer of Health for the Kingston, Frontenac,
Lennox & Addington Health Unit. "The Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco
(CCAT) views tobacco contraband as a major threat to public health and, in
response, has decided to launch Project CATCH: the Campaign for Action on
Tobacco Contraband and Health. Endorsing organizations share the concern that
cheap cigarettes undermine the public health benefits of tobacco tax
increases. High tobacco taxes protect kids from starting to smoke, prompt
smokers to quit or cut back, and prevent ex-smokers from relapsing."
    "Since price plays such a critical role in tobacco consumption, tobacco
smuggling has also the potential to hurt all the work done by the health
community over the past ten years to introduce other tobacco control measures
to protect Canadians from the devastating health effects of tobacco products,"
adds Dr. Gemmill. "Let's not forget as well that governments are losing
hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars per year because of tobacco
contraband and the resulting reluctance to raise tobacco taxes."
    Francis Thompson, the Director of Policy for the Non-Smokers' Rights
Association outlines the major sources of contraband cigarettes: "The most
significant source is from illegal operations on the St. Regis (i.e. American)
side of Akwesasne, which straddles the Ontario, Quebec and New York States
borders. Other sources are from illegal operations on Kahnawake (near
Montreal), Tyendinaga (near Belleville, Ontario) and Six Nations (near
Brantford, Ontario). Obviously, the authorities have known for several years
where these cigarettes are coming from. Yet, we still have no indication if
the federal government views tobacco smuggling as a priority and plans to do
anything significant about it."
    "There is no way of knowing for sure the current size of the contraband
market but indicators do suggest that the problem is getting worse, especially
in Ontario and Quebec," warns Neil Collishaw, Research Director for Physicians
for a Smoke-Free Canada. "Smuggling is also spreading to other provinces. In
any case, regardless of what level the contraband market has reached, the
solutions are known and must be implemented. Any further delay will only make
it harder for the federal and provincial governments to effectively solve this
    "The key to preventing contraband is to eliminate the source of supply,"
declares Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst and lawyer for the Canadian
Cancer Society. He adds that priorities for action should include:

    1.  prohibiting the supply to unlicensed manufacturers of raw materials
        and equipment used in making tobacco products;
    2.  revoking licenses of manufacturers acting unlawfully;
    3.  introducing an effective package marking system known as 'tracking
        and tracing' to closely monitor tobacco shipments;
    4.  persuading the U.S. federal government to shut down illegal
        manufacturing operations on the U.S. side of Akwesasne;
    5.  and establishing a minimum bond of at least $5 million in order to
        obtain a federal tobacco manufacturing licence, instead of the
        current extremely low $5000.

    "Some of these measures can and should also be applied by provincial
governments, notably Ontario and Quebec," Cunningham points out.
    "Tobacco contraband and smuggling is a problem of supply, and not of
demand or of higher taxes," emphasizes François Damphousse, Director of the
Quebec office of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. "This is demonstrated by
the fact that the two provinces with the lowest taxes - Ontario and Quebec -
have the largest contraband problem. Provinces such as British Columbia and
Alberta, with far higher taxes, do not have a material illegal market. The
problem at hand is the lack of control of the illicit supply of tobacco, a
problem that is entirely preventable."

For further information:

For further information: SOURCES: Neil Collishaw, (613) 233-4878, cell.
(613) 297-3590; Rob Cunningham, (613) 565-2522, ext.305; François Damphousse,
(514) 843-3250, cell. (514) 237-7626; Louis Gauvin, (514) 598-5533, cell.
(514) 816-5493; Dr. Ian Gemmill, (613) 549-1232, ext. 234; Michael Perley,
(416) 340-2992, cell. (416) 709-9075; Francis Thompson, (613) 230-4211, cell.
(613) 355-6532

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