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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 15:47

Saskatchewan a potential target for contraband tobacco smugglers

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Tobacco smoking remains a significant public health issue in Canada, despite changing public perceptions about the habit and more stringent legislation to control the sale of tobacco products and to discourage smoking.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the use of tobacco is responsible for 30 per cent of cancer deaths and 85 per cent of lung cancer.
In Saskatchewan, the Tobacco Control Act has been in place since 2002. Significant amendments to this legislation were made in 2005 and 2010.
From Aug. 15, 2010, the use of tobacco in schools and on school grounds is not allowed and additional tobacco control legislation came into effect Oct. 1, 2010.
These new prohibitions include no smoking in vehicles when children under the age of 16 are inside, no smoking in enclosed common areas of multi-unit residential dwellings, no smoking within three metres of doorways, windows and air intakes of enclosed public places and additional restrictions on indoor and outdoor display signs for tobacco products.
Despite these efforts the smoking rates in Saskatchewan are still the highest among all nine provinces. According to Statistics Canada, the national smoking rate in the country was 19 per cent in 2011. In Saskatchewan, the smoking rate was 23.8 per cent and the lowest provincial smoking rate was 15.8 per cent in British Columbia. Smoking rates in the other provinces varies from 20 to 21.8 per cent.
A potential new cause of concern for Saskatchewan was highlighted recently by the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT), an advocacy group of tobacco producers, retailers and other organizations.
NCACT national spokespersons Gary Grant and Michel Rouillard, who are both retired police officers, visited Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton during the first week of August to meet with politicians, community leaders and the media about the issue of contraband tobacco and its negative social consequences.
“Contraband (tobacco) is beginning to spread outside of eastern Canada, including into the Prairies,” Rouillard said during a telephone news conference Aug. 1
The NCACT believes there are important lessons to be learned from the efforts by the provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec, where smuggling of contraband tobacco is a major problem.
“It would be naive to think that it’s not making some inroads in Saskatchewan, but the good news for us is that it has not become an epidemic like it is in Ontario and Quebec,” Grant said. “Ontario and Quebec waited a long time … So if the Saskatchewan government put some anti-contraband legislation in place and raise public awareness about the problem it would be a great first step in dealing with the problem in case it started to emerge here.”
According to the NCACT, the easy availability of cheap contraband tobacco contributes towards youth smoking. A “baggie” of 200 cigarettes can cost less than a movie ticket. Another concern is that the distribution takes place through a criminal network.
“The RCMP estimates that contraband tobacco is a cash cow of more than 175 criminal gangs who use the proceeds to finance their other activities, including guns, drugs and human smuggling,” Grant said.
In 2008, the RCMP established a Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Strategy in response to the increase in illicit tobacco crimes.
According to the RCMP’s third progress report on this strategy for the period 2010 to 2011, the nationwide seizures of contraband tobacco in 2010 consisted of approximately 782,000 cartons and re-sealable bags of cigarettes, around 43,000 kilograms of fine-cut tobacco, approximately 5,300 kilograms of raw leaf tobacco and about 142,000 cigars.
The report details various RCMP initiatives to disrupt the contraband tobacco supply chainof organized crime groups. In 2011, the RCMP conducted Operation FALTO in Saskatchewan to investigate the distribution of contraband tobacco in the Moose Jaw area. It resulted in the arrest of three people and the seizure of more than 1,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes as well as a firearm, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia.
The RCMP also started an initiative to make courier and transport companies in Saskatchewan aware of contraband tobacco. Information provided by a courier company resulted in the seizure of 213 cartons of cigarettes in May 2011.
In March 2013, the federal government introduced legislation to create a new Criminal Code offence for trafficking in contraband tobacco. Bill S-16 has already been passed by the Senate and has been referred to committee after its second reading in the House of Commons.
This bill will strengthen federal enforcement measures, but more action against contraband tobacco might also be required from provincial governments in western Canada.
Criminal activity has no borders and the ongoing strength of the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies provide an attractive market for illegal cigarettes.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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