SULTAN JESSA: Tobacco smuggling continues to haunt us

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A battle to put an end to illicit tobacco trade in eastern Ontario and western Quebec has been going on for several decades.

In the past four decades or so, numerous attempts have been made to break illegal tobacco ring.

Following police raids, smuggling calms down for a while.

Then it re-starts with more rigour.

I clearly remember writing my first story on illegal tobacco trade about 30 years ago.

Both, Ontario and Quebec have been losing millions of dollars in taxes in illicit tobacco trade.

Just recently police forces on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border dealt what they described as a severe blow to an illegal tobacco ring which is supposed to be linked to the Mafia and aboriginal organized crime.

Officials from Quebec, Ontario, the RCMP, The Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. department of Homeland Security raided dozens of properties.

More than 30 arrests were made. Other arrests are pending.

In all, $7-million worth of counter band tobacco was seized.

Many aboriginal people were surprised by the official announcement which talked of close collaboration between the Mafia and aboriginals.

Most strategies to put a bid dent in this illegal trade have not succeeded in fighting contraband tobacco in Canada.

Can this trade be greatly reduced or wiped out?

I doubt it.

But, I would also add these raids should continue on a regular basis.

Smokers dish out anything from $75 to $100 to legally buy a carton of cigarettes.

However, if you were to buy the same number of cigarettes in a plastic bag from an illegal source it will cost you less than $10.

Many blame high taxes on tobacco products for this illegal trade.

Others say if taxes are too law, it will encourage more and more people to take up smoking, which has also been blamed for heart and lung diseases.

Every year, millions of unregulated cigarettes flood across the border.

Law authorities believe a high percentage of illegal cigarettes are smuggled through Akwesasne Mohawk territory in New York State.

One report has even suggested contraband products are even worse for their health than regulated cigarettes because they are not monitored for quality at all.

It is also widely believed that proceeds from contraband cigarettes often support organized crime.

Apart from destroying the tax base, the contraband cigarettes is also killing communities and destroying health standards.

A recent study by the tobacco industry indicated that almost one in three cigarettes bought in Canada is purchased illegally.

The rapidly expanding illicit tobacco trade should be a growing concern for federal and provincial governments and to the national law enforcement agency.

Millions of dollars are lost by industry and the government through illegal tobacco product sales.

Eliminating the contraband tobacco trade is not going to be easy.

After the latest raid, police authorities explained the unprocessed tobacco was initially purchased by the smugglers and then transported over the border hidden in shipments of cedar mulch.

Police estimate their latest 18 month investigation will put an additional $10 million in the government’s pockets.

Since 2010, police and border guards have seized 30 tonnes of illegal tobacco at or near border crossings.

Organizations: RCMP, The Canada Border Services Agency, Department of Homeland Security

Geographic location: Ontario, Quebec, Canada U.S. Canada.Can

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