Several South Eastern Ontario police forces used the Kingston Police Station Wednesday morning to launch a new public awareness campaign focusing on the impact of contraband cigarettes.
Police say people may think buying illegal cigarettes is a small crime but the proceeds from the black market trade go right into the pockets of organized crime and terrorists.
Ash Gutheinz, a Kingston police officer and the coordinator for Kingston 1000 Islands Crime Stoppers, says a 2016 report by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute highlights United States criminal investigations linking terrorism and cigarette trafficking.
“Interpol, the regulating police agency, has indicated that groups like Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and ISIS are also involved in this illegal trade,” said Gutheinz.
The campaign message, which will be featured in radio and newspaper ads, will air from Napanee to Prescott and north of Sharbot Lake.
According to police, approximately 1 in 3 cigarettes sold in Ontario is illegal.
High taxes on legal cigarettes play a roll in the growing illegal cigarette trade, police say.
Gutheinz says locally, the black market numbers have almost doubled since 2014.
“Just in Kingston alone, we’ve gone from I think it was 26.3 per cent up to 48 per cent of contraband tobacco on our streets.”
Profits can be high for the criminal organizations.
A bag of 200 cigarettes costs organized crime about $10 but on the street, it sells for $20 to $25. Gutheinz says that means illegal profits in the millions of dollars in South Eastern Ontario alone.
“Internationally, terrorism groups and organized crime syndicates are profiting in the billions of dollars,” Gutheinz said.
The campaign is expected to run for the next several months, while residents are asked to report contraband cigarette sales to police or Crime Stoppers.