Terrace has some of the highest rates of illegal tobacco in B.C. with only Vancouver and Kamloops higher, according to a study commissioned by the Western Convenience Store Association.
The city has an overall rate of 19.1 per cent of illegal tobacco usage. The researchers looked at 48 sites across the province, three of them were in Terrace—the Dairy Queen, Boston Pizza and the Mills Memorial Hospital. The Mills Memorial Hospital was particularly high: 23 per cent of butts collected at the hospital were found to be contraband. The Boston Pizza had a rate of 18.4 per cent and Dairy Queen 15.6 per cent.
The sites chosen for the study were based on the likelihood that a diverse sample of the population would gather to smoke there.
According to the president of the WCSA Andrew Klukas, researchers would collect approximately 150 cigarette butts from receptacles and off of the ground and they were taken back to Montreal to be analyzed. This is a great cause for concern, Klukas explained, because it means that tobacco products are being sold without mandated health warnings and without age-verification checks. It also means that this proves there are channels open and alive for the trafficking of illegal goods.
“What once was a problem solely in Central Canada has made its way throughout the West and into our communities in B.C.,” Klukas said in a press release.
It’s like flipping on the light switch—opening channels to sell illegal tobacco means that later those same channels could be used to sell other illegal products: guns, drugs, or even human trafficking, Klukas said.
Klukas explained that contraband tobacco used to be a really big problem in the ’90s. In 2009, 50 per cent of contraband tobacco was found in Ontario, he said emphasizing that this percentage and the selling of illegal smokes is an example of organized crime.
“When you find a contraband dealer, don’t give them a slap on the wrist, but put a stop to it,” he said acknowledging that a lot of people don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong when they buy them.
Contraband tobacco is sold at a fraction of the cost with cartons sometimes selling as cheap as eight dollars which is appealing to buyers.
“Tax losses are quite significant,” Klukas said. B.C. collects approximately $700 million in taxes from tobacco sales each year, “tax losses associated with contraband are above $120 million annually—that represents funding for education, and health care,” he said.
According to the WCSA, contraband cigarettes are typically manufactured in illegal facilities on reserves in both Canada and the U.S. but can also be shipped in from overseas. Klukas said it is legal to sell cigarettes on reserves without taxes, but if they’re leaving the reserve than the taxes should be paid in full.
“They get entrenched in aboriginal communities,” he said, but there is no way in determining whether it is members of the aboriginal communities or visitors who are trafficking the illegal tobacco products.
The low cost and availability of contraband tobacco is appealing to buyers who don’t know that these products are illegally manufactured and sold, Klukas said.
Although this is the first study of its kind in B.C., it sets the baseline for the province with only a 1.4 per cent margin of error and after examining more than 6,000 butts.
“As retailers—why do we care? Because no one else in the country was addressing the contraband problem,” Klukas said.
Not only do contraband cigarettes steal customers out of convenience stores, it also makes tobacco especially easy for youth to acquire. Mystery shopping and age testing is protocol for WCSA. In 2009, B.C. compliance was the highest in the country, Klukas said.
“We’re good at this and we take it seriously and we age test to make sure that kids aren’t getting this stuff, so when we see people out there selling to kids without caring who they’re giving it to … they’re being irresponsible, while we are upholding morality,” he said.