Convenience stores in Fredericton want the federal and provincial government to get involved in the fight against the sale of illegal cigarettes.
“Right now, contraband tobacco is our biggest issue,” said Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association.
He said convenience stores are in danger of closing because of the sluggish economy, rising costs, strict rules and regulations, and illegal tobacco.
Hammoud cited a recent study commissioned by the Canadian Convenience Store Association that showed the area around the University of New Brunswick’s Student Union Building has the highest rate of illegal cigarettes in the city.
About 27.5 per cent of cigarette butts found in the area were deemed illegal.
The cigarettes are differentiated by the markings on the filter.
Legal cigarettes have a company label, while illegal cigarettes either have no marking or a fleur-de-lis.
“These butt study numbers come as a shock to people in the industry,” said Jerry Scholten, owner of Scholten’s Groceries.
“Around here, we know that contraband cigarettes are five times cheaper than legal cigarettes and there is no question this is undermining government and health group anti-smoking efforts, not to mention crippling convenience store employees, shop owners and other people of the community.”
Hammoud said the cigarettes are being sold by people involved in organized crime from street corners, parking lots and out of cars.
“They are sold in plastic baggies for about 20 per cent of the cost of legal cigarettes, no tax is collected, no one is quite sure what is in this product and nobody asks for ID.”
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, said illegal cigarettes undermine the success of reducing smoking through higher taxes.
“Higher tobacco taxes are the best way to cut cigarette use. In these economic times, the government needs revenue and we need to reduce smoking.”
The Atlantic Convenience Store Association and its federal counterpart are calling on governments to work as a team to reduce the number of illegal cigarettes by 10 per cent.
“We implore elected officials to take on this commitment,” said Hammoud.
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