Blackmarket butts put teens in danger

Ontario teens are increasingly buying illegal cigarettes from street dealers so it may be time to ban tobacco possession by young people under the age of 19, a spokesman for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) says.

Gary Grant, a retired Toronto Police staff superintendent, said studies of butts found around high schools show that young smokers are going to black market vendors to purchase cigarettes for as little as pennies each.

“They’re starting to smoke at an earlier age and they’re learning it’s okay to break the law,” Grant said. “They’re also finding that they have access to a lot more than just contraband cigarettes. For instance, maybe a little Ecstasy for the weekend, some grass or some other types of drugs, maybe some booze, maybe even a weapon.

“And this is happening to people’s teenage sons and daughters as young as 12 and 13 years old.”


Students often learn from each other that a vendor is available, maybe parked around the corner from school property and selling stuff out of the back of a van.

The threat to young people’s health goes beyond even the obvious dangers of smoking, Grant said.

An RCMP investigation into illegal cigarettes — manufactured without controls in China, India, Canada and the U.S. — found they can contain insect eggs, dead bugs, mould and even human feces.

NCACT is in the midst of an eight-city tour of Ontario, releasing analysis of cigarette butts found around high schools.

A Windsor study made public yesterday found that 34% of butts were contraband, up 4% from the previous year.


The Canadian Convenience Stores Association released findings in 2008 that 26% of youth smoking in Ontario is linked to contraband tobacco.

Grant said there needs to be a public debate about whether it’s time to ban possession of tobacco outright for people who are too young to buy it legally — those under 19.

It’s not unusual to see a bunch of kids huddled outside high schools smoking at lunch time or after school, he said.

“But you don’t see them with a case of beer in front of them, sipping on a beer at lunch, because the government has made it illegal for minors to possess beer,” Grant said. “So I think it would go a long way to address the problem if there was a prohibition ban on cigarettes for minors. If you’re not old enough to buy it, you shouldn’t be old enough to possess it.”

A ban would at least allow police officers to confiscate cigarettes from teens, he said.


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