Federal Government Takes Tough Stance On Distributors Of Contraband Cigarettes

OTTAWA — The federal government is cracking down on the contraband tobacco trade with new legislation that would impose tough penalties for selling, distributing and transporting the substance.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made the announcement Tuesday after the bill was tabled in the Senate.

“Tobacco trafficking is a serious threat to the public safety of Canadians, our communities and our economy,” Toews said. “Contraband tobacco fuels the growth of organized criminal networks, contributing to the increased availability of illegal drugs and guns in our communities.

The legislation would create a new Criminal Code offence for selling, possessing for the purpose of selling, transporting, distributing and delivering contraband tobacco. First-time offenders can receive a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment for less serious offences and five years imprisonment if prosecuted for more serious offences.

The bill also proposes mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders caught with large volumes of contraband: 10,000 cigarettes or 10 kilos of other tobacco products.

A second offence would carry a minimum of 90 days in prison, while a third offence would carry a minimum 180 days in prison. Subsequent convictions would carry minimum penalties of two-years-less-a-day in a provincial institution.

The bill would also establish a 50-officer RCMP Anti-Contraband Tobacco Force, tasked with going after organized crime groups involved in the contraband tobacco trade.

“Baggies of cheap, illegal tobacco can make it easier for children and teens to get cigarettes into their hands and start smoking, which obviously has a negative impact on their health,” Aglukkaq said.

“Tobacco use continues to be the most preventable cause of premature death in Canada, and we are committed to helping all Canadians in their fight against smoking.”

Changes to the Tobacco Act passed in 2009 effectively barred the sale of flavoured cigarettes and cigarillos. It also repealed a loophole that allowed tobacco advertising in adult magazines and newspapers.