MONTRÉAL, Nov. 22, 2012 /CNW/ - The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) is disappointed that the Québec budget did not introduce new steps in the fight against illegal cigarettes. Contraband tobacco remains readily accessible throughout the province, undermining the government's tobacco control efforts.
"The Québec government's efforts to reduce tobacco use are commendable, but the fact remains that the best way of doing this is targeting contraband tobacco," said NCACT's national spokesperson Gary Grant, a 39-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service. "While the budget commits to monitoring the province's illegal cigarette problem, more concrete action is needed to stamp out contraband tobacco."
Contraband tobacco remains a problem in Québec and the rest of Canada. A recent study from the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact showed that nearly half of Canadian smokers had purchased cigarettes from a cheaper source, including from smugglers and smoke shacks. Illegal cigarettes are often sold in re-sealable plastic bags, with 200 cigarettes costing less than the price of a movie ticket. That is about $90 less than legal product.
"Illegal cigarettes' low price and easy availability undermine Québec's tobacco control efforts, particularly those aimed at keeping cigarettes out of kids' hands, as contraband dealers don't check I.D.," said Grant. "In fact, the availability of contraband tobacco has been flagged by the Centre for Addiction and Mental health as a reason for keeping youth smoking rates stubbornly high."
Québec has made some important gains in the fight against illegal cigarettes. Bill 59 gave local police and municipalities the ability to fight contraband tobacco directly, which is not the case elsewhere in the country. These have shown some success, as the budget highlights. However, the contraband tobacco market is not static, and if the government does not keep pace, it risks losing the progress it has achieved.
"Illegal cigarettes are a cash cow for illegal gangs. In fact, the RCMP estimates that there are more than 175 organized crime groups that use the trade to finance their other activities, including guns, drugs and human smuggling," said Grant. "Statistics Canada estimates that Canadians spend $2.6 billion annually on contraband tobacco. That's a lot of money ending up in the pockets of some of society's least desirable elements, who are bound to work to protect their business. Government response must be constant and nimble."
Québec has a direct financial interest in curbing illegal cigarettes. The budget highlights that the province's efforts to date have begun to pay dividends, but there is still more to do. According to the investigative news program W5, governments in Canada lose about $2.1 billion dollars annually in tax revenues to illegal cigarettes. That's money that could be used to invest in sorts of services that Quebeckers expect.
"Illegal cigarettes cost the government money, facilitate kids smoking, and fund organized crime," concluded Grant. "It is important that the government take the steps that are necessary to address this problem."
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, Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers, 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, National Citizen's coalition, The Customs & Immigration Union (CIU), the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
SOURCE: National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco
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