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Contraband cigarette industry “thriving”: study

by Archives September 15, 2009

Outside Concordia’s Loyola campus, a student is smoking a cigarette. Even though he’s over the age of majority, and in a designated smoking area, he is breaking the law.
Simon LaFrance, 20, is one of a growing number of young Canadians who smoke cigarettes bought on native reserves.
Of all cigarettes smoked by adolescents in the country, 25 per cent of them are so-called “natives,” according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
These illicit cigarettes originate from First Nations reserves and are sold under the table to non-natives.
Contraband cigarettes are illegal for two main reasons: first, they don’t charge the obligatory provincial and federal taxes, helping to drive down the price. Second, the cigarettes packs don’t have warning labels.
According to Rob Cunningham, senior political analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, there are several tobacco factories in First Nations reserves.
It is illegal for people who don’t live on reserves to purchase the cigarettes they produce.
LaFrance, a sociology student who admits to being an habitual smoker since high school, said he recently started smoking contraband cigarettes not only because they’re less and expensive and easily accessible, but also because he doesn’t consider it risky. “To get caught buying native cigarettes, you have to be really unlucky,” he said. To stock up on cigarettes, LaFrance travels to Kahnawake, a short drive from Loyola.
Another Concordia student, Filipp Goussev, who is in his third year of environmental studies, purchases his First Nations cigarettes under the counter at a Russian store in Montreal.
Regardless of how easy or how harmless the practice might seem, it is against the law for an off-reserve Canadian to purchase cigarettes made on a reserve, said Cunningham.
In recent months, the Canadian Cancer Society has been lobbying for the government to implement policies to get contraband under control in Quebec and Ontario.
“The big picture is that the government needs to raise the tobacco tax,” Cunningham said. “Higher taxes reduce smoking by preventing youth from starting, and encouraging smokers to quit or cut back.” He said increasing the price of cigarettes has proven to be a successful tool in reducing smoking in Canada.
But some smokers, like Goussev, said higher prices could have the opposite effect. “As the price for normal cigarettes goes up, native cigarettes will be more popular,” he said. But he did admit he knows people who were discouraged to buy cigarettes when prices increased.
Measures taken to discourage smoking have been effective, Cunningham said, pointing to the fact that, whereas in 1965 about half of Canadians smoked, only 18 per cent said they did in 2008.
While Cunningham admitted some smokers will continue to purchase cigarettes, no matter what the price, he said it can’t be ignored that the numbers have gone down because of higher tobacco taxes. Canada now has one of the lowest smoking rates in developed countries. Quebec has the lowest tobacco tax in Canada.
Though Cunningham understands students tend to struggle with finances, he has little sympathy for those think they deserve tax-free cigarettes. “Certainly students have less money and earn a very low income, but that doesn’t mean the government should give them tax-free beer,” he said.

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