Still, it is a legal product, controlled to an extent through government regulation. It is also an important revenue stream for convenience store owners in Northumberland County who are beset by the competition from unregulated contraband cigarettes that come easy and cheap from various producers.
A group that represents convenience store owners has been traversing the province asking government officials to show support for the industry here at home by writing to the provincial government and demanding tough penalties for those convicted of illegal tobacco offences. It also wants expanded powers for the local police service and OPP officials since current legislation only allows RCMP to lay formal contraband tobacco charges. Though there are mechanisms in place for municipal police forces to act as designated excise agents, expanded powers will proportionately expand investigations and, presumably, the number of charges laid and convictions secured.
Regardless of one’s views on tobacco use and abuse, governments must level the playing field for convenience store owners and crack down on contraband cigarette sales and consumption. Each bag of these contraband smokes — you can obtain as many as 200 for as little as $20 — represents a loss of revenue for business owners and a loss of the taxes paid to various levels of government. Each group relies heavily on legal sales of the product to boost revenues.
Convenience store owners are small business entrepreneurs, not entirely unlike a tradesman who runs a sole proprietorship, or a local resident who operates a home-based business. Imagine the impact on an electrician and his or her business if they had to compete against others using cheap and unregulated electrical components sold on the black market, of questionable quality and even murkier origins.
In the interests of fairness to all and in the interests of supporting small business owners in Northumberland, officials here must take an active role on the file, speak out on behalf of convenience store owners and take a clear stand against the sale and distribution of contraband tobacco.