The province is being urged to crack down on the smuggling and dealing of untaxed contraband tobacco.

The province is being urged to crack down on the smuggling and dealing of untaxed contraband tobacco.

Illegal smokes widely available in B.C., survey finds

Province urged to crack down on contraband tobacco smuggling, dealing

Contraband or counterfeit cigarettes that avoid government taxes and are often sold to teens are much more readily available in B.C. than Alberta, according to a new study.

Illegal smokes made up 15 per cent of the discarded butts sampled at sites across B.C., including schools and hospitals, compared to 10 per cent in Alberta.

The survey was commissioned by the Western Convenience Stores Association, which wants the province to crack down on the illegal sales.

WCSA president Andrew Klukas admits his members have a motive to get more customers in their stores, but insists it’s in the public interest.

“To see this going on across the street from us, to see these products being sold without tax to kids, without any age testing or any controls, is extremely frustrating,” Klukas said.

The rate of illegal tobacco found in butts discarded at B.C. schools was 15.5 per cent, the highest in western Canada.

Surrey’s Tamanawis Secondary had the highest rate among B.C. schools – 19.7 per cent of discarded butts there were illicit smokes.

The rate was nearly 39 per cent outside the Passport Canada office in downtown Vancouver, nearly 32 per cent at UBC and about 25 per cent at Terrace’s Mills Memorial Hospital as well as a federal government building in Surrey’s Newton area.

The association argues high taxes and other government regulations have encouraged the underground tobacco business, where consumers can get cigarettes on the cheap.

“A lot of people are using these products and they simply don’t understand it’s not victimless,” Klukas said.

Besides the estimated $120 million a year in lost government tax revenue, he said the trade helps fuel organized crime in B.C. and across the country.

Most of the unauthorized smokes sold in B.C. are produced on aboriginal reserves in Quebec or Ontario and are smuggled across the country, Klukas said.

He said B.C. could follow other provinces and let municipal police forces keep the proceeds of crime, giving them a financial incentive to tackle smuggled smokes.

Klukas also argues the province’s finance ministry doesn’t have enough staff pursuing fraud investigations.

“Get some more boots on the ground and it will pay for itself,” he suggested.

The top 10 B.C. cities with the highest rates of illicit cigarettes found were: Vancouver at 28.7 %; Richmond at 21.2 %; Terrace at 19.8 %; Surrey at 17.6 %; Prince George and Prince Rupert, both at 14 %; Langford at 13.1 %; Chilliwack at 13 %; Kamloops at 12.2 %; Victoria at 11.6 %; and Port Coquitlam at 11.1 %.

Klukas said the WCSA is not lobbying government to reduce tobacco taxes, but argues they can’t be increased further without first getting control of the problem.

Finance ministry spokesman Jamie Edwardsen said B.C. will be requiring all legal cigarettes be sold with a new Health Canada stamp that makes them easier to distinguish from unauthorized ones.

Provincial fraud investigators have an illegal tobacco tipline that accepts anonymous reports at 1-877-977-0858.

Just Posted

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack woman’s 100-km birthday marathon to benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Volunteers will gather at South Gate Shopping Centre on Fathers Day before fanning out to help clean up downtown Chilliwack. (Facebook photo)
Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association organizes Fathers Day cleanup

Volunteers will spend 90 minutes fanning out to gather trash in downtown Chilliwack

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

RCMP investigating June 15, 2021 crash. (Black Press file)
Chilliwack RCMP say crash into median led to impaired driver investigation

Chrysler 300 driver allegedly collided with tree on Spadina median in June 15 incident

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

A search is underway for a 75-year-old fisherman who went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search continues for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

Canadian, U.S. Coast Guard searching for 75-year-old man reported missing Thursday evening

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Most Read