Western Convenience Stores Association

Western Convenience Stores Association

December 02, 2013 11:30 ET

New Studies Reveal High Rates of Illegal Tobacco Usage in Manitoba

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA--(Marketwired - Dec. 2, 2013) - Local convenience store retailers are expressing concern following two studies indicating a strong presence of illegal tobacco in Manitoba communities.

The Western Convenience Stores Association (WCSA) commissioned a contraband tobacco study, which examined discarded cigarette butts at 30 sites to determine if they were legal or illegal (contraband) cigarettes. The first study (June 2013) found illegal tobacco usage rates ranging from 10% to 39% in various locations across the province. A second study of the same locations completed in October found a consistent overall rate of contraband.

The provincial average of illegal tobacco usage between both studies was just above 14%.

"What's surprising about some of these figures is that many of the highest numbers were found outside government buildings," said Andrew Klukas, President of the Western Convenience Stores Association (WCSA). "Unfortunately, we are seeing evidence that the contraband market and the illegal activities it supports has taken hold in Manitoba."

"Illegal cigarettes are sold without verification, making it easy for these products to end up in the hands of minors. While convenience store retailers are trained to check for I.D., contraband tobacco traffickers sell to anyone who's willing to buy, regardless of their age," Said Klukas. "As retailers, it is our responsibility to ensure youth do not have access to age-restricted products, including tobacco. Our Association would like to be part of a broad, comprehensive contraband awareness and enforcement campaign that supports our on-going effort to limit youth access to tobacco."

Cigarettes in Manitoba are now the most expensive in Canada, which the WCSA believes is contributing to growth in the contraband tobacco market. And Manitoba's shared border with Ontario - a province traditionally associated with contraband tobacco - makes it a gateway to the West.

Manitoba has shown its resolve by being the only province to shut down operations that could lead to an explosion in contraband products. However, with several provinces contemplating restrictions on tobacco flavours, Manitoba must remain vigilant in helping to prevent the growth of a new contraband market. "Product restrictions are often introduced in an effort to prevent youth smoking, but they can have the unintended effect of increasing demand for these products in the illegal market," says Klukas.

There are significant financial and public safety implications associated with the illegal tobacco trade. In addition to the millions of dollars lost in uncollected provincial taxes on contraband products, the RCMP disrupted over 50 organized crime groups (between 2008 and 2011) involved with the contraband tobacco trade, often selling drugs and guns alongside illegal tobacco. According to government officials, retailers are not part of the contraband problem.

The WCSA would like to work with the provincial government to ensure proactive anti-contraband legislation is put into place. "We think the imposition of strict penalties against contraband trafficking - including harsher penalties for repeat offenders - will be necessary to prevent the expanded sale of illegal tobacco in and through the province of Manitoba," said Klukas. "We look forward to working with the Government of Manitoba and law enforcement officials to bring forward proactive legislation to ensure the safety of our communities."

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