Sale of Illegal Tobacco a Growing Problem

The sale of illegal tobacco is a growing problem in British Columbia according to a study by the Western Convenience Stores Association (WCSA).  The study found the average rate of contraband tobacco use across British Columbia to be 17%, with rates as high as 51.6% in certain tested locations. 

The distribution of illegal tobacco encourages the sale of cheap cigarettes to youth; undermines Provincial health initiatives to reduce smoking; reduces Provincial tax revenue from the sale of tobacco; and increases organized criminal activity.

The WCSA undertook the study in 2014 of contraband cigarettes at 48 sites throughout British Columbia.  The sites were chosen with the goal of finding representative samples of what people are smoking (public buildings, shopping centres) or where the prevalence of contraband would cause the greatest concern (universities, schools).  The study found that British Columbia at 17% had one of the highest rates of illegal tobacco use, only New Brunswick at 22% and Ontario and Nova Scotia at 20% having a higher rate of illegal tobacco use in Canada.  

The WCSA study found in British Columbia that the communities with the highest rate of illegal tobacco use were Vancouver with a rate of 31.8%; Kamloops with a rate of 22.4%; Terrace with a rate of 19.1%; and Richmond with a rate of 18.5%.  The locations with some of the highest rates of illegal tobacco use were Simon Fraser University at 51.6%; University of British Columbia at 46.8%; Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops at 27.3%; River Street Skate Park in Kamloops at 25.4%; Tamanawis Secondary School in Surrey at 24.1% and Prince Rupert City Hall at 23.5%.   

The RCMP has indicated that the sale of illegal contraband tobacco is a growing problem across the country.  According to the RCMP, organized criminal groups are involved in the production and distribution of illegal tobacco, these networks are also being used to distribute other illegal products.  The MacDonald-Laurie Institute has estimated that the illegal tobacco trade costs provinces such as Ontario between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in lost taxes per year.

The WCSA represents over 7,000 convenience stores across Western Canada and is looking to work in partnership with local government to address the issue of illegal cigarettes.  The WCSA would like to see the Province take legislative action to impose stricter penalties and stronger enforcement provisions, similar to what Ontario and Quebec have introduced.  The Association would also like to see the Province implement a provincially supported awareness program on contraband tobacco, aimed at consumers, as means to counteract the growth of the illegal tobacco industry.  The WCSA is asking that local governments write the Provincial government to implement measures that lead to effective solutions to combat the growing problem of the illegal tobacco trade in British Columbia.

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