THUNDER BAY – The issue of illegal contraband tobacco is viewed as a problem in our community. Local enforcement agencies are teaming up to address it. This week, the Joint Agency Working Group launched their Illegal Tobacco campaign to coincide with Police Week, May 14-18. The goal is to educate the public about what illegal tobacco is, and the risks of purchasing it.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit states, “Over the next four months, the city-wide campaign will focus on creating awareness that illegal tobacco is any type of tobacco product that does not include the packaging or labelling that identifies that taxes or duty have been paid. The campaign involves posters and information cards distributed throughout the community and during roadside stops”.
One of the concerns raised has been the lower price of cigarettes and tobacco products on the Fort William First Nation. Those lower prices are being blamed for increased tobacco use in the city. The TBDHU says, “Due to its low price, illegal tobacco is easily accessible to youth, making it more difficult for smokers to quit. It also diverts millions of tax dollars that could be used to fund health care, education and other government programs”.
“Locally, this issue is about protecting youth and improving the health of our community,” says Mike Duranceau, tobacco enforcement officer with the Health Unit. “We know that smoking rates are higher in our region compared to the rest of the province. Access to cheap and illegal tobacco makes it easier for children and youth to start smoking and keeps current smokers hooked.”
“Evidence shows that a 10 per cent increase in the price of cigarettes leads to a 12 per cent decrease in consumption by youth. Youth access to illegal tobacco works against this proven tobacco control measure. Young people who remain smoke-free throughout their youth tend to remain smoke-free as adults, which is why protecting youth from accessing tobacco, illegal or otherwise, is so important”
In June 2011, Ontario took new steps to stamp out illegal tobacco with Bill 186 – Supporting Smoke-Free Ontario by Reducing Contraband Tobacco Act, 2011. This legislation provides new tools to reduce illegal tobacco including: set fine levels, police seizures, raw leaf tobacco regulation and marking schemes.
Members of the Joint Agency Task Force include the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Thunder Bay Police Service, Crimestoppers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Anishinabek Police Service.
Assistance for smokers wishing to quit is available at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit or Smokers’ Helpline.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit also offers information on the traditional use of tobacco by Aboriginal peoples as a part of cultural ceremony.