OTTAWA, Ontario -- In May 2008, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Minister of Public Safety launched a Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Strategy. Four years later, illegal cigarettes remain a serious problem across Canada and much more work remains to be done.
Central to the 2008 strategy was a commitment to fight illegal cigarettes by disrupting organized crime groups and the contraband supply chain. It also included better coordination within government, outreach to stakeholders, education and bolstering regulatory and legislative tools. There was also a commitment to conduct a comprehensive review after three years.
"Contraband tobacco remains a major problem across Canada, and is still the cash cow of organized crime," spokesperson Gary Grant with the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT), said in a press release. "The RCMP estimates that more than 175 criminal gangs use the profits from the trade to finance their other activities, including guns, drugs and human smuggling."
Contraband tobacco's low price and easy availability also make it a prime source for youth smoking €" a "baggie" of 200 illegal cigarettes costs about as much as a movie ticket, and contraband dealers don't check I.D. In fact, a recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that easy access to illegal cigarettes was one of the reasons for Ontario's relatively high youth smoking rates.
"Four years later, it is very clear that contraband tobacco is a problem that won't solve itself," said Grant. "It is important that government continues to keep pressure on the criminals that run the trade, making sure that law enforcement officials have the tools that they need. Governments must also recognize that this is a problem that crosses jurisdictional and departmental boundaries. Just as the strategy outlined four years ago, there is a need to work together to share information and coordinate enforcement."
The provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec recently committed to bolstering the powers of police to fight the illegal cigarette trade. During the last federal election, the government committed to creating a new anti-contraband tobacco RCMP task force and instituting mandatory jail time for repeat contraband offenders. The NCACT hopes that the federal government will introduce these shortly.
"We cannot become complacent in the fight against contraband tobacco," said Grant. "Reducing focus on this important problem will allow the criminals running the trade to re-entrench themselves and eliminate the progress that has been made. The government's anti-contraband strategy remains an important starting point, but it must be current and it must be acted upon."