A spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco says numerous recent drug busts across the Maritimes are evidence that the number of illegal cigarettes in the province is growing.
According to NCACT spokesperson Gary Grant, buying or selling illegal cigarettes is not a victim-less crime.
Grant says organized crime activity targets young people and he’s hoping to raise awareness by speaking with MLAs at the New Brunswick legislature.
“We’re really trying to be proactive about it,” Grant said.
Grant, who served 39 years with the Toronto Police Service, says that in Ontario one out of three cigarettes purchased is contraband. He says the same research hasn’t been done in New Brunswick yet, but he doesn’t want organized crime to get a foothold in the communities, particularly those where young people are targeted.
He says youth can buy 200 cigarettes illegally for less than the price of a movie ticket.
“Criminals don’t ask for identification. They don’t ask for proof of age. They don’t care,” Grant said.
He explains that’s a concern because it leads to a whole new generation of smokers and it teaches teens that it’s okay to break the law.
He says small businesses, such as convenient stores, are paying the price because people can get cigarettes cheaper on the street.
“The fact of the matter is that it’s not the tax man’s money; it’s the taxpayer’s money.”
“The people that are spending their money and paying taxes expect that money to be spent on infrastructure, health, security – all the things the government is supposed to do,” Grant said.
He adds illegal cigarettes fund the activities of more than 175 criminal gangs, along with drugs, guns and human smuggling.
New Brunswick Minister of Justice and Public Safety Denis Landry says the Contraband Enforcement Unit created in April has been successful in cracking down on illegal tobacco.
According to government statistics, more than 354,000 cigarettes were seized from April 1 to June 30. The street value of those seized cigarettes is more than $212,000, and there were five seizures in the period of April 1 to June 30, 2016.
“The province is losing $13 million to organized crime and this funding would be a great need for the people of this province. We’re funding health care, education and all those things and this is why we’re trying to stop as many of those people out there selling those cigarettes,” Landry said.
Grant says he would like to see the New Brunswick government launch a public awareness campaign to alert people of the dangers of the issue.
He would also like to see all police services across the province, including the RCMP, get fully engaged in contraband investigations, similar to how it’s done in Quebec.
Landry says the unit is still new and it’s a “learn-while-doing” process. He adds, with the task force just starting in April, there will likely be adjustments to the ways things are done.