Smokers’ use of contraband tobacco is pervasive and growing in Ontario, according to new study.
Dave Bryans, of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), said that 32.8% of the cigarette butts collected in the study were from illegal sources — an increase of 8% from 2015.
The finding raises questions about the effectiveness of government attempts to curb the spread of tobacco sold illegally off First Nation reserves, he said.
“It’s actually discouraging and shocking at the same time,” Bryans said. “Every year, we hear in provincial budgets or we hear from different levels of governments that we are doing things to correct contraband. And then when we do this unscientific sweep, it now increases again.”
Use across Ontario was up — 21% of cigarettes butts collected in the GTA were contraband, 26% in southwestern Ontario, 29.3% in eastern Ontario and an astounding 54.2% in northern Ontario.
“This is a product that has no advertising, has no promotions, no marketing plans — nothing,” Bryans said. “And you’re starting to see 34% of all smokers having access to the product, delivered to them in every community.”
Smokers can purchase “quality” contraband tobacco for an average of $37 a carton, compared to $100 in a convenience store for a similar legal product that is taxed, he added.
There are dozens of cigarette factories on reserves and an underground system of gangs to bring the product to buyers, including underage smokers, he said.
At the very least, governments should consider banning possession of tobacco for youth but they’ve been reluctant to do so, he said.
“You don’t see a high school student standing next to a high school drinking beer at lunch hour,” said Bryans.
The Ontario government said in the spring that it continues to strengthen tobacco enforcement, which included a raw leaf tobacco oversight system.
“Since 2008, more than 252 million contraband cigarettes, 4.3 million untaxed cigars and 169 million grams of untaxed fine-cut tobacco or other tobacco products have been seized by the (finance) ministry,” the government said in a statement.
Bryans said the continuing spread of illegal tobacco use should be a cautionary tale as the country moves to legalized marijuana.
It would not take much effort for factories now churning out illegal cigarettes to focus on pot production, he said.
Percentage of illegal cigarette butts:
– GTA: 21%
– Eastern Ontario: 29.3%
– Southwestern Ontario: 26%
– Northern Ontario: 54.2%
– Sault Ste Marie: 75.5%
– Oshawa: 32.4%
– Whitby City Hall: 92%
– St. Joseph-Scollard Hall School (North Bay): 82.8%
– Orillia Square Mall: 73%