Health groups repeat call for action on tobacco contraband

    "Stopping illicit supply will curb production"

    EDMONTON, Oct. 2 /CNW/ - Health professionals and tobacco control leaders
from across the country today issued a call for federal and provincial action
to cut the supply of contraband at its source and get illegal cigarettes off
the streets.
    During a discussion chaired by Robert Schwartz, director of evaluation at
the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, delegates at the 5th National Conference on
Tobacco or Health learned that current levels of contraband activity in Canada
have surpassed the historical high that was reached in 1994 when the black
market was considered out of control. They also discussed the urgency of
developing a new plan to end this illegal activity.
    "In Canada, tobacco contraband activity is growing. While the new federal
steps to implement high-security stamping and increase the number of audits of
tobacco factories and farms are steps in the right direction, there is much
more that needs to be done," said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst,
Canadian Cancer Society. "The availability of cheap cigarettes means that more
people will be smoking."
    The Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco (CCAT) launched a campaign
in April, Project CATCH: the Campaign for Action on Tobacco Contraband and
Health. CCAT members share the concern that illegal cigarettes challenge the
public health benefits that tobacco taxes provide.
    "High tobacco taxes discourage kids from starting to smoke, prompt
smokers to quit or cut back, and prevent ex-smokers from relapsing," said
Francois Damphousse, director, Non-Smokers' Rights Association. "Since price
plays such a critical role in tobacco consumption, tobacco smuggling has the
potential to damage much of the work done by the health community over the
past decade."
    While it is difficult to accurately measure Canada's contraband market,
statistics suggest that the problem is getting worse, especially in Ontario
and Quebec. Coincidentally, these two provinces have the lowest tobacco taxes.
This demonstrates that a tax increase is not why the illegal tobacco market is
    "Lowering tobacco taxes is not the answer to solving the contraband
issue," said Bob Walsh, chair of CCAT. "This is a problem of supply, not of
demand or taxes. The key to preventing illegal cigarettes lies in eliminating
the source of the supply."

    CCAT's priorities for Project CATCH include:
    -   Prohibiting the supply to unlicensed manufacturers of raw materials
        and equipment used in making tobacco products;
    -   revoking licenses of manufacturers acting unlawfully;
    -   introducing an effective package marking system known as 'tracking
        and tracing' to closely monitor tobacco shipments;
    -   persuading the U.S. federal government to shut down illegal
        manufacturing operations on their side of the border, and
    -   establishing a minimum bond of at least $5 million in order to obtain
        a federal tobacco manufacturing licence, instead of the current rate
        of $5,000.

    The Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco is an umbrella group of
several national and provincial health agencies that work together to reduce
tobacco use. Smoking remains Canada's largest preventable cause of death,
responsible for approximately 37,000 deaths each year. Tobacco-related
diseases cost Canada over $17 billion annually, including $4.4 billion in
direct health-care costs.

For further information:

For further information: Media Contacts: Lenore Bromley, Communications,
National Conference on Tobacco or Health, (416) 471-8475; Matt Drennan-Scace,
Communications, National Conference on Tobacco or Health, (416) 951-7956

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National Conference on Tobacco or Health (NCTH)

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