Tobacco Roads

Dec 15, 2012

A Compilation of FrontLine Articles

In the murky world of criminal behaviour and clandestine side deals, there lurks a menace to economic fairness and good government – and this is especially evident in the debate on how to deal with the illicit trade in smokes. Public safety and national security are important social issues that are negatively affected by the prevalence of illicit trade in tobacco in Canada (and the world). The complexity of the contraband tobacco issue has provided much fodder for FrontLine Security’s detailed exposé on the topic over the past year.

In Canada, there is an added layer of complexity in that the First Nations communities are heavily involved in cigarette production and distribution, beginning with a constitutional permission, but obviously offering a tempting underground ­market outside the Reserve.

At the end of the day, FrontLine recommends more open and inclusive dialogue on the issue of how best to eliminate, or at least vastly reduce, the incidence of illicit tobacco growing, transporting, manufacturing, packaging and selling.

There are many players within the private sector including legitimate industry players. The tobacco growing farmers and government, including federal and provincial policy and enforcement personnel, need to get on the same page about how to deal with the contraband tobacco problem.

These dialogues need to deal with the real issues that permit the growth of the underground tobacco market and these issues need to be sorted out by the players in a collaborative (if perhaps, mediated as well) way. For example, when the R.C.M.P. fails to provide adequate law enforcement resources or commitment, that failure should provoke a stakeholder response.

Another candid assessment of failure needs to be pointed out: the Ontario Ministry of Revenue’s decision to pussy-foot around the issue of regulating who grows, processes, sells, buys, imports, exports or inter-jurisdictionally transports tobacco. That department has the authority to regulate, and therefore must stop giving excuses for inaction. The time to act is now!

Responsibility for addressing problems related to contraband tobacco also rests with the public, the tobacco industry, and the media.

The tobacco industry has much culpability in the contraband issue as their legitimate product has spawned the appetite for tobacco in the first place. And now they must play a positive role in the demise of the illegal industry which is probably best done by financially supporting counter- ­contraband initiatives.

The public mistakenly believes that the illicit tobacco trade is a “victimless crime”; it will continue so long as there is a willing market. Public health efforts to educate generation after generation of children about the harms of tobacco use must continue.

New social media platforms connect many of the dots needed to get a message through to impressionable youth about the dangers of smoking. Many of those dangers are invisible to the young smoker, but there is truly a criminal network in virtually every community that launders profits from contraband tobacco operations. These operations are conducted with the help of organized crime, biker gangs, and terrorists.

Social media, coupled with the traditional media, has the capacity to add much to the learning curve needed by modern society about the realities of the illicit tobacco industry. However, before we can expect the public to become mature about the realities of that nether world, government officials at all levels, law enforcement at all levels, and other stakeholders should get in a room and start talking.

Edward R. Myers, Editor
© FrontLine Security 2012