The province is being urged to crack down on the smuggling and dealing of untaxed contraband tobacco.

The province is being urged to crack down on the smuggling and dealing of untaxed contraband tobacco.

Illegal smokes widely available in B.C., survey finds

Province urged to crack down on contraband tobacco smuggling, dealing

Contraband or counterfeit cigarettes that avoid government taxes and are often sold to teens are much more readily available in B.C. than Alberta, according to a new study.

Illegal smokes made up 15 per cent of the discarded butts sampled at sites across B.C., including schools and hospitals, compared to 10 per cent in Alberta.

The survey was commissioned by the Western Convenience Stores Association, which wants the province to crack down on the illegal sales.

WCSA president Andrew Klukas admits his members have a motive to get more customers in their stores, but insists it’s in the public interest.

“To see this going on across the street from us, to see these products being sold without tax to kids, without any age testing or any controls, is extremely frustrating,” Klukas said.

The rate of illegal tobacco found in butts discarded at B.C. schools was 15.5 per cent, the highest in western Canada.

Surrey’s Tamanawis Secondary had the highest rate among B.C. schools – 19.7 per cent of discarded butts there were illicit smokes.

The rate was nearly 39 per cent outside the Passport Canada office in downtown Vancouver, nearly 32 per cent at UBC and about 25 per cent at Terrace’s Mills Memorial Hospital as well as a federal government building in Surrey’s Newton area.

The association argues high taxes and other government regulations have encouraged the underground tobacco business, where consumers can get cigarettes on the cheap.

“A lot of people are using these products and they simply don’t understand it’s not victimless,” Klukas said.

Besides the estimated $120 million a year in lost government tax revenue, he said the trade helps fuel organized crime in B.C. and across the country.

Most of the unauthorized smokes sold in B.C. are produced on aboriginal reserves in Quebec or Ontario and are smuggled across the country, Klukas said.

He said B.C. could follow other provinces and let municipal police forces keep the proceeds of crime, giving them a financial incentive to tackle smuggled smokes.

Klukas also argues the province’s finance ministry doesn’t have enough staff pursuing fraud investigations.

“Get some more boots on the ground and it will pay for itself,” he suggested.

The top 10 B.C. cities with the highest rates of illicit cigarettes found were: Vancouver at 28.7 %; Richmond at 21.2 %; Terrace at 19.8 %; Surrey at 17.6 %; Prince George and Prince Rupert, both at 14 %; Langford at 13.1 %; Chilliwack at 13 %; Kamloops at 12.2 %; Victoria at 11.6 %; and Port Coquitlam at 11.1 %.

Klukas said the WCSA is not lobbying government to reduce tobacco taxes, but argues they can’t be increased further without first getting control of the problem.

Finance ministry spokesman Jamie Edwardsen said B.C. will be requiring all legal cigarettes be sold with a new Health Canada stamp that makes them easier to distinguish from unauthorized ones.

Provincial fraud investigators have an illegal tobacco tipline that accepts anonymous reports at 1-877-977-0858.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police arrested a man after at least 14 downtown locations were damaged Jan. 20. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Victoria glass smashing suspect believed to be water taxi thief

Man arrested for damaging at least 14 downtown locations

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after discovery of suspicious device in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

West Shore RCMP seized a stolen fish finder and drugs after searching a Colwood home Jan. 9. (Black Press Media file photo)
Search of Colwood home reveals stolen fish finder, drug trafficking evidence

West Shore RCMP suspect a 46-year-old woman is responsible

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Most Read