THUNDER BAY – The Ontario Convenience Stores Association are taking more action to get its message about the fines people face, and the harm contraband cigarettes cause to communities and businesses. The OCSA are taking their message to the streets with a new billboard campaign starting in Thunder Bay.
Illegal cigarettes come in many forms and packages, including in pack formats and plastic baggies. Some are partially or untaxed, robbing the government of millions in tax revenue; and, many are illegally manufactured in Canada or smuggled into Canada from the United States.
People caught with even one bag or pack of contraband cigarettes can be subject to fines from $500-$2,500.
“Governments have told us that education was a key tool in the war on illegal cigarettes. Our goal with these billboards is to educate the public and draw their attention to the fact that contraband tobacco is illegal and comes in many forms,” stated Dave Bryans, CEO, Ontario Convenience Stores Association.
“Illegal tobacco not only harms small businesses in Thunder Bay, it harms the community by bypassing the tough regulation and age-checks designed to prevent minors from getting access to tobacco”.
The OCSA say, “As many as one-third of cigarettes smoked in Ontario are contraband and the RCMP indicates that profits from these sales are often being used by criminal organizations to finance other more serious activities. In fact, RCMP figures state that at least 175 organized crime groups are using contraband smuggling to fund other criminal enterprises such as drug and weapons trafficking. Ontario’s Auditor General has added that contraband tobacco is costing Ontario over $500 million dollars a year in lost revenues. The RCMP has said the contraband tobacco market is “a serious threat to public safety.”
The OCSA are running two different billboards in Thunder Bay until September 30. One highlights the sophistication of the illegal tobacco industry by informing people that that illegal cigarettes come in many forms, including traditional cigarette packaging and plastic bags. The second billboard highlights the fines people face if they purchase contraband tobacco.
Canadian convenience store retailers have been outspoken on the issue of contraband tobacco since 2005. Over the past several years, over 1,000 convenience stores have gone out of business, in large part due to the effects of the illegal contraband market on these law-abiding retailers. A clear plastic baggie of 200 illegal cigarettes costs as little as $10 while legitimate products are sold for $75 – $90 for one carton.