Over 5 million illegal cigarettes seized in B.C. last year: province

Over five million illegal cigarettes were taken off the street last year – many of which were seized in Metro Vancouver, the provincial government said Saturday.

The illegal tobacco was seized during undercover investigations conducted with local law enforcement during the 2019-20 fiscal year. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance’s Consumer Taxation Audit Branch also regularly inspects shops to ensure retailers are not selling contraband products.

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Contraband tobacco includes products that are not properly stamped or marked, or legal products that are purchased and sold illegally.

The seizure saves B.C. $1.4 million in potential taxation revenue loss, according to the province.

The provincial government says Surrey, Vancouver and Kelowna top the list for amounts of tobacco seized during the undercover operations:

  • Surrey: approximately 3.6 million cigarettes seized
  • Vancouver: approximately 1.6 million cigarettes
  • Kelowna: approximately 82,000 cigarettes

The sale, purchase, possession and transportation of tobacco are strictly regulated in B.C.

As of Aug. 1, 2020, the province taxes loose tobacco at a rate of 39.5 cents per gram, while cigarettes are taxed at $5.90 per 20-pack and $7.38 per 25-pack. Cigars are taxed at 90.5 per cent of their retail price, to a maximum of $7 per cigar.

“Contraband tobacco can get into the hands of people under the age of 19 and can contribute to increased criminal activities, such as organized crime and drug and gun trafficking,” reads a statement issued by the province.

“A loss of tax revenue due to illegal tobacco means reduced funding for government programs.”

The lost revenue could be put towards services such as health care, infrastructure and education.

People can anonymously report the illegal sale and distribution of contraband tobacco by phone, toll-free at 1-877-977-0858; online to the Ministry of Finance; or to Crimestoppers.

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