The percentage of illegal cigarettes being smoked in Prince Rupert is higher than the provincial average.
A study released by the Western Convenience Store Association (WCSA) examined discarded cigarette butts at 48 sites throughout the province to determine how much illegal cigarettes are being smoked throughout British Columbia.
For the study, all cigarette butts found on the ground or in ashtrays in various areas were collected and examined. Sites were selected on the basis that a good cross-section of the public might be smoking in that area — the site chosen for Prince Rupert was around City Hall.
The study was conducted between April 27 and May 26, with the average rate of illegal tobacco use at tested sites being 17 per cent. In Prince Rupert, the rate of illegal tobacco collected was 23.5 per cent.
Andrew Klukas, president of the Western Convenience Stores Association, said the usage of contraband is a concern for a number of reasons, including loss of government revenue.
“In British Columbia, if in fact the average is 17.3 [of cigarettes are contraband], and that’s what our numbers tell us, that would represent a $120 million a year in lost revenue … it means the funding that would go into public services for everybody aren’t there,” he said.
Data collected in other communities showed that there were high percentages of contraband butts near schools with underage consumption being another concern of illegal cigarette use.
“When there’s people out there who are selling contraband products out of their trunks, or whatever it is, without any age testing, they sell to whomever’s willing to buy at a low cost, it undermines all of our efforts to get at the issue of youth consumption,” Klukas said.
“It’s very frustrating for my members.”
Klukas also said the RCMP has determined that contraband cigarettes have been linked to organized crime.
Contraband cigarettes, while they look like legal cigarettes, are not branded with company logos or with mandated warnings on packages.
The WCSA is now calling on the provincial government to address contraband through proactive legislation and by allocating additional resources for enforcement. It is also asking the B.C. government to work with all levels of government to address the issue.