Healthy Living in the North

Not so cheap after all

World Health Organization campaign poster

The costs of illegal tobacco are high! The RCMP warns that contraband tobacco “injects criminal activity into our community.” How can you help to stop the trade of illegal tobacco?

May 31 is the annual World No Tobacco Day. It’s an important day for tobacco reduction coordinators like me. This year, it’s given me the chance to talk about an area that I haven’t covered in past blog posts.

For 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has focused World No Tobacco Day on stopping the trade of contraband/illegal tobacco.* Across the world, the WHO suggests that one out of every ten cigarettes consumed has been sold illegally. The issue affects almost all countries.

You may have heard that Ontario and Central Canada have had issues with contraband tobacco, but what about B.C.?

In 2014, the Western Convenience Store Association commissioned an independent study to determine the percentage of untaxed tobacco sales in B.C. The results were surprising:

  • Contraband tobacco comprised 17.2% of the total cigarettes collected.
  • The three cities with the highest percentages were Vancouver (31.8%), Kamloops (22.4%) and Terrace (19.1%), my hometown.

For some, buying contraband tobacco may not seem like such a big deal. That is definitely not the case! According to the RCMP, organized crime groups are heavily involved in distributing contraband tobacco. The profits from the sale of contraband tobacco are often used to fund other illegal activities.

But it’s not just the criminal connections that are concerning. Contraband tobacco is sold without mandated health warnings or age verification. Since it’s cheaper, contraband tobacco contributes to people starting to use tobacco. For youth or those on a fixed income, it can be particularly attractive. It also takes millions out of the tax system that could be used to fund health care.

It seems to me that contraband tobacco isn’t so harmless after all!

There are things that can be done to stop the illegal trade of tobacco. The WHO suggests:

  1. Policy makers need to recognize that illegal tobacco contributes to the global tobacco use problem and is connected to organized crime. Write your local government representative about this issue.
  2. You can learn more about the negative health, economic and social effects of illegal tobacco. If you know someone who purchases illegal tobacco, talk to them about it. They might not be aware of just how harmful it is.
  3. More research can be done on the illegal trade of tobacco. Its harmful effects need to be fully understood. The role of the tobacco industry in this issue should also be looked at further.

The price of illegal tobacco may be cheap, but the costs to society are high!


*The RCMP defines contraband/illegal tobacco as: “any tobacco product that does not comply with federal or provincial law, which includes importation, marking, manufacturing, stamping and payment of duties and taxes.”

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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