A recent survey commissioned by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) reveals almost half of Ontario smokers would purchase untaxed, illegal tobacco products if the government were to ban their product of choice. This is causing alarm for retailers who are worried the Ontario government’s proposed menthol tobacco ban will send their customers to the contraband market.

The OCSA commissioned a survey by Abacus Data which found that product bans would not deter consumers from finding their preferred through unlicensed channels. Over 43% of tobacco users said that, if their tobacco product were banned, they would simply find this elsewhere.

“Our retailers have been inundated with complaints from customers who are extremely upset with this government’s inclusion of menthol in the flavour tobacco ban,” says Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA). “We expected that customers would be displeased, however the reaction from menthol consumers has been surprising.”

The Making Healthier Choices Act was tabled in November 2014 by the Liberal government. Retailers and consumers are expressing concern primarily over the inclusion of menthol in the flavoured tobacco ban, as other jurisdictions have exempted menthol products in the past. Former Minister of Health and current President of the Treasury Board Deb Matthews previously acknowledged that menthol cigarettes are preferred by adults, and therefore should be exempt from flavour legislation.

“To see it included in this Bill was surprising, given the Government’s previous comments on menthol,” said Bryans. “We ensure tobacco doesn’t end up in the hands of youth, so it is the adult consumers who are actually impacted by this ban.”

While the ban was introduced with the intention of curbing youth tobacco consumption, the Association is highlighting the will of customers to go to the illegal market to obtain these products. Currently, there are 35 brands of menthol tobacco products that are available on the illegal market. It also appears tobacco consumers are open to the idea of purchasing illegal tobacco products, with nearly 70% saying they would consider buying untaxed tobacco products on reserve.

“Two thirds of respondents stated the contraband tobacco was a problem in Ontario,” said Bryans. “Certainly, it would appear this problem will become much worse if a ban on menthol products proceeds.”

Retailers and consumers will be taking action as they launch a campaign against the menthol ban included in Bill 45. For more information, please visit www.nomentholban.ca