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Campaign to help crack down on those selling illegal cigarettes in BC

FILE (iStock Photo)

Local agency says the fraudulent smokes are often used to buy guns and fund organized crime

Recent seizure of millions of cigarettes saved the BC government more than $700,000

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Maybe it’s one more reason to quit. Smokers in BC are again being warned not to buy illegal or smuggled cigarettes and this time it’s the region’s Crime Stoppers unit that’s reporting the underground market is funding organized crime.

Tell-tale signs of bad products include lower than expected prices and a duty-paid stamp missing on the packaging. The cigarettes are often stolen from convenience stores or they may have been smuggled here from the US or overseas.

Money from the sale of illegal tobacco products is typically used to buy guns. That’s why Crime Stoppers has launched a new campaign seeking anonymous tips about anyone stealing smokes.

“On the surface it may seem a victimless crime, but it isn’t,” says Linda Annis, Executive Director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers. “When you buy tobacco from an underground source, you’re often helping fund organized crime, and that presents a public safety issue, plus you don’t know where the tobacco comes from, or what’s in it.”

The crime fighting agency also says up to 30 per cent of tobacco consumed in Canada is contraband and illegal sales are responsible for several million dollars’ worth of lost tax revenue in BC where $700 million is usually collected every year.

Over a 12-month period ending March 31st of this year, the Finance Ministry says three million contraband cigarettes were seized and that prevented the loss of more than $730,000 in tax. Many of those cigarettes were in one single shipment thought to have been manufactured in Eastern Canada and the US, and headed for sale on Lower Mainland streets.