Vernon, B.C. store owner calls for stricter penalties against illegal cigarette dealers

Click to play video: 'Illegal cigarette sales hurting B.C. convenience stores'
Illegal cigarette sales hurting B.C. convenience stores
WATCH: The rise in contraband cigarette sales in B.C. has some convenience store owners concerned. The B.C. government has already seized 2.9 million grams of illegal tobacco this fiscal year, but one store owner in Vernon says more needs to be done to even out the playing field. Jayden Wasney reports. – Feb 2, 2023

Some convenience store owners in B.C. are fed up, after a rise in contraband cigarette sales has led to major revenue losses.

Since July of 2022, the cost of cigarettes in B.C. have gone up by roughly 7 per cent, after the province imposed a new tax. The move has forced some consumers to look for a cheaper option, like purchasing contraband cigarettes, which has one convenience store owner in Vernon calling on the government to put a stop to it.

“People are selling it as if there’s no regulations, (but) we are following everything — the tobacco tax, PST, GST,” explained owner of Happy Days convenience store, Gurmahek Gill.

“I haven’t heard anything from the government that they’re taking any major steps regarding it, they are just sliding it and letting it go.”

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Gill adds that on several occasions, he’s witnessed the sale of contraband smokes right in front of him, adding to his frustration.

“I have customers that sometimes come in and are saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t mind, I’m just parking in your parking lot, and grabbing cigarettes from the house next door.’ Some guy’s selling it for $50 a carton,” said Gill.

The loss of sales, however, doesn’t just hurt convenience stores. Illicit trade takes millions of dollars away in provincial tax revenue that supports B.C. social programs.

On Jan. 8, Vernon RCMP intercepted nearly 1.5 million contraband cigarettes during a checkstop. Gill says that while he’s grateful for the work being done by local authorities, he feels the provincial government needs to step up.

“I would really like them to go after people who are actually selling them, not paying any taxes and then find out where it’s all coming from,” expressed Gill.

B.C. Minister of Finance Katrine Conroy weighed in on the subject, saying work is being done to stop criminals from selling the illegal product.

“We know contraband tobacco affects smalls businesses and communities throughout B.C.,” Conroy said in a statement.

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“We strongly regulate tobacco in our province, and there are stiff penalties in place for dealing with contraband tobacco. We also work closely with the federal government and law enforcement to combat contraband products.”

Meanwhile, one retail advocacy group in B.C. has suggested stricter measures.

In a statement from The Retailers Alliance 4 Safe Communities, the organization says, “we believe a Contraband Prevention Task Force is the first step in addressing the buying and selling of illicit tobacco in our province and finding a way together to implement stronger enforcement and penalties for those that break the law.”

In 2021-22, the provincial government seized a total of 3.6 million grams of illegal tobacco, and in this fiscal year so far, 2.9 million grams of illegal tobacco have been taken off the streets.

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