Imperial Tobacco Canada asking federal and Ontario governments to tackle illegal tobacco

Company claims illegal market share in Ontario is to be at least 39% and as high as 69%.
Tom Venetis
Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada + OCTANE
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CNW Group/Imperial Tobacco Canada

Imperial Tobacco Canada (TCAN) is claiming that with crime rates rising across Ontario and the continuing growth of the illegal tobacco market, new data suggests this could be impacting smoking rates. 

Imperial Tobacco Canada (TCAN) is therefor recommending that the federal and Ontario governments take immediate and decisive action to address the illegal tobacco trade, including enforcement action. 

"Ontario has a major illegal tobacco problem, and this is not only undermining efforts to protect public safety, but it may also be contributing to higher smoking rates," says Eric Gagnon, vice-president, corporate and regulatory affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada.

According to new Public Health Ontario data, smoking rates appear to be significantly higher in regions which appear to be more impacted by illegal tobacco activity, like Northern, Eastern and Southwestern Ontario. For example, the Timiskaming Health Unit has the highest smoking rate in the province at 22%, and rates are above 16% for the six northern health districts. Similarly, rates are high in the Haldimand Norfolk (20.1%), Southwestern (18.5%) and Brant County health units (17.5%), along with the Eastern Ontario (17.5%) and Hastings Prince Edward (17.3%) units.   

Conversely, rates are much lower in the York (6.3%), Ottawa (6.7%), Halton (6.9%), Peel (7.1%) and Toronto (7.1%) public health units.

READ: OKBA applauds government action against contraband tobacco

"This data should provoke questions, such as why some regions have smoking rates almost four times higher than others. Unfortunately, anti-tobacco advocates such as Rob Cunningham from the Canadian Cancer Society fail to acknowledge the relationship between the disproportionate smoking rates to the illegal market, and suggest the issue is due to the legal age to purchase tobacco products. But with the same legal age across Ontario, yet rates that show huge variations, it would seem Mr. Cunningham's interpretation of the issue is driven more by his anti-tobacco industry objective instead of the actual betterment of public health. If Mr. Cunningham and the Canadian Cancer Society are serious about reducing smoking incidence, they should join us and ask the Ontario government to eliminate cheap and unregulated cigarettes," adds Gagnon.

Illegal tobacco is thriving in Ontario, as demonstrated in a September 2023 report by EY Canada for the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. It is estimated that the illegal market share in Ontario is at least 39% and as high as 69%.

"Governments and the public health community need to open their eyes to reality, and that reality is a massive illegal tobacco problem that is only getting worse. The illegal sale of tobacco deprives provincial governments of significant revenues, finances criminal gangs and fosters other criminal activities, and provides easy and affordable access to tobacco products. It would be naïve to suggest this does not impact smoking rates," says Gagnon.

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