Illegal smokes on the rise
Priti Patel of the Cedar Pointe Convenience Store believes the rise in contraband tobacco products is hurting her bottom line. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network
More than one-quarter of all the butts tossed to the curb are contraband and the numbers are rising.
Almost 35% of Barrie smokers are lighting up contraband cigarettes, compared to approximately 20% in 2015.
Between Sept. 1 and 19, WrightOn Marketing collected cigarette samples at 134 smoking locations around Ontario, including hospitals, office buildings, high schools and other public locations where people are known to frequent when smoking.
In total, more than 19,900 samples were collected. And although Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) says it’s not a ‘scientific’ study, it is an indicator of the growing presence of illegal tobacco usage in Ontario.
At Barrie’s Eastview Secondary School, the use of illegal cigarettes, such as DKs or Putters has increased from almost 15% in 2015 to 30% this year.
At the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, Bryans said last year 29% of butts found were contraband, whereas this year, 43.4% were of the illegal variety.
At Georgian Mall, illegal smokes jumped from 19% to 32%.
“This just blows my mind,” Bryans said. “I think it’s time we all stopped pretending that if we raise the price people will quit. If you raise the price, they’ll find alternatives.”
For the last seven years OCSA has performed the study in an attempt to encourage the government to recognize the sale of contraband tobacco is on the rise.
Bryans says the lack of government intervention is hurting shop owners’ bottom lines, which are losing sales to an unregulated industry.
“We’re concerned with a government that has said ‘we’re going to control contraband’ but we’re not seeing that yet. With this (contraband butts) study, you have to ask, how are we ever going to control the sale of (recreational) marijuana?”
Cedar Pointe Convenience shop owner Priti Patel said she’s noticed a decrease in cigarette sales at her store on Dunlop Street West.
“We have lots of restrictions on us,” said Patel.
She said health inspectors insist the large cigarette drawers behind the cash register shouldn’t remain open for too long, and requests store owners not open them at all in front of small children.
”We only make 30 cents on an $11 to $12 pack of cigarettes, but we are being pushed into a narrow position for how and what we sell,” she said.
“The law should be the law. It should be the same for everyone,” her partner Himanshu Karbhari said.
However, a carton of cigarettes sold at a convenience store costs about $100 and at the 350 smoke shacks across Ontario and Quebec, they sell for approximately $38.
In Orillia, with its proximity to the Chippewas of Rama First Nations reservation, OCSA noted the use of contraband cigarettes has jumped from just over 30% in 2015 to 57% this year.
On Monday morning, a 15-year-old Barrie teen was threatened with a knife and had his cellphone taken while he was trying to buy contraband smokes from an 18-year-old.
OCSA states because contraband cigarettes are making their way to school zones, it shows that they are being sold without age verifications, as are mandated in corner stores.
They also believe the spread of contraband results in the growth of an underground, illegal economy, which results in a loss of revenue for both the shop owners, as well as tax dollars for the governments.
Yet smoker Brian (who asked his surname be withheld), admits he buys cigarettes at the Rama reserve for $5.50.
“Who’s got $12 to fork over for a pack of cigarettes?” Brian asked. “I know some people buy them at the store, but not as many as I used to.
“But it’s like the price of gas. It goes up but they’re still going to drive. It’s like the price of alcohol or ground beef. The price has skyrocketed but people are still going to buy it. It becomes more of a need than a want at some point.”