In her Opinion piece in The Gazette May 31, Flory Doucas ignores the unintended consequences of failed “good” policies given the emergence of a thriving black market. A closer look at the situation reveals a reality much different than the one described by Doucas. In fact, here’s what we see:
Provincial governments, with inexplicable disregard for basic market principles, pushing tobacco taxes well past the tipping point, and creating attractive black-market conditions for plastic bags of 200 low-priced, untaxed, illegal cigarettes that often sell for as little as one-tenth the price of legal Davidoff cigarettes.
Scaremongering anti-tobacco lobbyists warning of the dangers of Big Tobacco’s covert marketing activities even though display and promotional bans have been in place for almost 10 years in some provinces.
Local health units’ sending dressed-up teenage “mystery shoppers” to test and entrap clerks in law-abiding neighbourhood convenient stores, while turning a blind eye to the hundreds of “smoke shacks” where promotions such as free hockey tickets are advertised to consumers.
The federal government stubbornly spending six years and millions of taxpayer dollars on developing an outmoded and impractical excise-stamp system designed to differentiate legal from illegal products, when everyone knows that the illegal products, being sold in transparent plastic bags, are easily identifiable.
Health Canada’s proposing new regulations to increase the size of the graphic health warning to 75 per cent, from 50 per cent, on legal cigarette packs, when the ubiquitous illegal products, which make up nearly half of all cigarettes in some markets, carry no health warning at all.
Law enforcement’s seizing thousands of illegal cigarettes every week while conceding that billions more are trafficked off First Nations reserves throughout the country by more than 175 organized-crime groups, with shipments frequently finding their way into the hands of children.
I know that many readers will not agree with our views on this situation. Some will probably accuse us of trying to deflect attention from our own troubles. Others may even suggest that government needs to address both the legal and illegal markets. Fair enough. But does anyone truly believe that the nation’s policy-makers have meaningful solutions to the new tobacco reality of today? Does anyone believe that governments have the political will to address publicly the source of the problem: the more than 50 illegal factories and more than 300 smoke shacks on First Nations land? Unfortunately, we remain doubtful, and without action these numbers will only increase in future years.
Politicians see tobacco as an easy win. They should open their eyes and see that the real tobacco problem in Canada is not the regulated and enforced legal industry, where already more than 200 laws and regulations exist, but rather the unregulated and growing illegal black market. Times have changed, and tobacco control must change, too. If not, government may succeed in handing over the tobacco trade to the underground and criminal market – a free-for-all market that is unregulated, unenforced and untaxed.