Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tobacco Smuggling Irks Canada Antismoking Lobbies Accuse Canadian Tobacco Companies of Encouraging the Contraband

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tobacco Smuggling Irks Canada Antismoking Lobbies Accuse Canadian Tobacco Companies of Encouraging the Contraband

Article excerpt

CANADIAN tobacco companies are being accused of encouraging cigarette smuggling in an effort to boost sagging sales.

Stiff taxes on tobacco have dramatically cut cigarette consumption in Canada, especially among teenagers. But a Canadian antismoking group says the tobacco firms are selling cheap cigarettes in Canada by exporting them first to the low-tax United States.

"Ninety-five percent of the tobacco exported to the US is brought back either by professional smugglers or cross-border shoppers," says David Sweanor, staff lawyer with the Non-Smoker's Rights Association in Ottawa.

Mr. Sweanor says almost all the cigarettes smuggled back into Canada were produced here, because Canadian cigarettes are a different blend than American.

Cigarette smuggling is a big business for criminals. At a border crossing on the Quebec-Vermont line, Canadian customs officials say cigarette smuggling has become one of the most serious offenses.

"We found a car with 650 packs hidden in the door panels and under the seats," says Donald Crook, a customs officer.

The economic reasons for smuggling are simple: Canada's tax, designed to discourage smoking, pushes the average price of cigarettes to $5.50 (Canadian; US$4.62), versus $1.74 in the US. And the smugglers run little risk.

Fines are low, although cars, trucks, and boats used to carry contraband cigarettes can be seized. A tractor-trailer of cigarettes, driven across an unguarded road at night, can net a small fortune in profits for the smugglers, and for the Canadian tobacco companies who shipped the cigarettes legally to the US.

"The Canadian tobacco companies are profiting by smuggling because they are supplying the market," Sweanor says.

The Non-Smoker's Rights Association worries that progress in getting Canadians to kick the tobacco habit will be eroded by cheap imports smuggled in tax-free. Since the Canadian government decided to raise tobacco taxes in 1980, consumption has dropped and today only 26 percent of adult Canadians smoke. …

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