By MICHAEL STAPLES
People intent on purchasing contraband tobacco making its way into New Brunswick from Quebec and Ontario could be in danger, say RCMP.
Cpl. Robert Fullerton of RCMP J Division’s customs and excise unit said smokers are being exposed to the unknown.
“Certainly they (cigarettes) are cancer-causing, everybody knows that,” Fullerton said.
“The problem with these cigarettes is that you literally don’t know what you are buying. You are buying from individuals who are there to make a profit, and a profit only, and they don’t care what they put in there.”
Fullerton said some of the legislated features of regular cigarettes aren’t present in the contraband version.
Commercially bought cigarettes are normally ripped so that they can’t burn completely if someone falls asleep and they will go out on their own, he said.
“With these (illegal) cigarettes, you don’t know,” Fullerton said. “The protection is definitely not there for the public. There is nobody they are going to be able to sue at the end of this.”
Barbara MacKinnon, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Lung Association, said Health Canada studies indicate that commercial and contraband cigarettes have much the same chemical component. But, she said, not knowing who’s making them and the process involved leaves questions.
“To me the real risk is, even if they have the same components, that they are encouraging young people to smoke because they can afford them,” MacKinnon said.
Fullerton said it’s unclear what impact last month’s provincial budget tax increase on tobacco may have on those intent on dealing contraband cigarettes.
The tobacco tax has jumped by 45 per cent. The rise is equivalent to 5.25 cents per cigarette, an increase of $1.31 per pack, $10.50 per carton and an extra $25 million in provincial revenue.
Fullerton said the RCMP is aware the price of cigarettes has increased, which is always an incentive for the criminal element to look for further ways to make money.
“The highway traffic patrol units are extremely vigilant and maintaining a strong presence to deter those people considering transferring contraband tobacco.”
On April 8, members of the RCMP’s traffic services unit executed a pair of stops on the Trans-Canada Highway in the Edmundston area, resulting in the seizure of hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes.
The checks resulted in 200,000 contraband smokes being taken from one vehicle and 150,000 from another.
In both cases, the cigarettes and the vehicles used to transport them were seized and will be forfeited to the Crown.
Investigators believe all of the cigarettes were destined for the Halifax area.
On April 2, members of the District 8 Acadian Peninsula RCMP seized 124 cartons of illegal cigarettes estimated to be worth more than $3,000 from a residence in Tracadie-Sheila.
Most of the seizures come from check stops – with police being alerted by certain indicators, such as a strong smell of tobacco inside a stopped vehicle and the presence of boxes used to transport them in.
“The smell – the fine cut tobacco – is a very strong odor in such quantities,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton said the recent seizures aren’t unusual.
One thing police officers have noticed is that those involved in manufacturing contraband cigarettes appear to be having more difficulty in recruiting couriers.
“Now the Quebec people are actually transporting it,” Fullerton said. “Normally, it used to be the local people going down to get it and bringing it back. We have always seen Quebecers, but not in the numbers that we’ve seen.”
MacKinnon, meanwhile, said she would like to see some of the money collected from the increased tobacco taxes used for counselling and medication for helping people quit smoking and for additional policing resources in their battle against contraband cigarettes.