Group takes action on illegal smokes – Metro US

Group takes action on illegal smokes

As sales of contraband tobacco continue to butt into their bottom line, local convenience store owners are trying to take back cigarette sales.

“We as retailers think enough is enough,” said Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, who also owns a store in Burnside.

While worst in central Canada — a study commissioned by the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco revealed almost half of all cigarettes bought in Ontario are contraband — it’s spreading eastward.

Hammoud claimed 30 per cent of cigarettes in Nova Scotia are now illegally purchased.

Michel Gadbois, vice-president of the association, said as a result, the government loses $2.4 billion in possible tax revenue each year, while last year’s $260-million loss in profits forced almost 13 per cent of Nova Scotia’s convenience stores to close, the third-highest loss in the country.

“It’s coming here,” Gadbois warned. “No one is protected.”

At a press conference at Dartmouth’s J.C’s Store, the group outlined a plan to reduce 10 per cent of contraband tobacco across Canada in 2010 by making this a priority for local MPs, police and teachers.

The report also noted youth smoking as an issue. An April study alleged just over 20 per cent of butts in the area near the Halifax West High School came from contraband tobacco, though a spokesman for the Halifax Regional School Board had not heard of the study.

However, Hammoud made it clear that convenience stores did not sell tobacco to youth, with stores offering ID checks and quality control.

“We don’t want to see our children smoking,” said Hammoud. “We are parents too.”

But Eileen Marsh, an employee at J.C’s Store for about 10 years, isn’t optimistic about any plan.

“I don’t know if there’s any win-win situation here,” said Marsh, 65.

She said she works hard to make sure only adults purchase cigarettes. “We’re responsible for everybody’s children.”