Alberta Retailers Coalition calls on Minister to address contraband tobacco

The retailers’ advocacy group says a Tobacco Prevention Task Force could help curb escalating crime in the province.
Daniel Reale-Chin
Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada
Daniel Reale-Chin, a young man with a beard, smiles at the camera
Flag of Canada, cigarettes and Judge gavel. Illegal sale of tobacco products. Tobacco law in Canada

The Alberta Retailers Coalition (ARC) is calling on Minister Mike Ellis to address contraband tobacco in Alberta. The advocacy group says that the growing contraband tobacco market has increased crime in the province. 

The ARC is now imploring the government to create a Tobacco Prevention Task Force along with adding illegal tobacco tracking into the province’s public safety plan. 

"We know this is a big problem and there is no one-size fits all approach, which is why we are asking for the creation of a Task Force where tactics can be studied and research can be done to come up with an Alberta-made strategy to approach contraband tobacco,” a spokesperson from the Alberta Retailers Coalition said in a statement. 

[Read more: "Conquering contraband in Canada"]

The ARC, an advocacy group formed by independent c-store owners, community advocates and small business leaders in Alberta, has been working to spread awareness on contraband tobacco since its inception. 

According to a recent Leger poll, 68% of Albertans agree that crime, violence and social disorder are serious, growing problems, says the group, adding that contraband tobacco is often one of many illegal substances that traffickers are selling. 

The ARC commented that an estimated 175 criminal gangs are involved in Canada’s contraband trade, according to the RCMP, and that funds from illegal cigarettes are used to fund illegal activities like guns, drugs and human trafficking. The industry as a whole has been vocal against contraband tobacco.

John Richard Penney, manager of the Anti Illicit Trade Operations at JTI also addressed the issue in a tutorial at the Convenience U CARWACS Show in March. He identified 83 contraband tobacco brands in Canada in his presentation. 

[Read more: "Highlights and photos from the Convenience U CARWACS Show"]

The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) criticized the B.C. government for failing to address contraband tobacco in its budget earlier this year. 

“Store owners are also reporting nearly 40% reduction in legal tobacco sales,” Sara MacIntyre, CICC’s vice-president for Western Canada, said in a statement earlier this year. “The massive proliferation of contraband tobacco across the province is not only a massive illegal industry that costs the government millions in lost tax revenues and affects the viability of the corner store, but it also threatens community safety…The 2023 budget should have dedicated resources to a contraband tobacco task force.”

In Ontario, the Ontario Korean Businessmen’s Association (OKBA), echoed a similar sentiment, asking the Ontario government to allocate more of its budget to addressing the issue. OKBA president, Kenny Shim, addressed the issue at the Ontario pre-budget consultations in Toronto in January. 

“In 2021, investigators seized an estimated $4.5 million worth of contraband tobacco products, making it one of the largest ever on record in the province,” reads a post on the ARC’s website. “Officials said the lost tax revenue from the products is estimated at more than $2.5 million.” 

The ARC shares educational facts about the industry’s key issues – with an emphasis on contraband tobacco – to its website regularly.

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