Hamilton councillors are urging the province to crack down on contraband cigarettes that flow through the city.
Members of the general issues committee voted Thursday to write Ontario’s Minister of Finance urging him to follow through on commitments to crack down on illegal smokes.
The vote came after David Bryans, CEO of an organization that represents 249 convenience stores in Hamilton, said in a presentation that contraband cigarettes contributed to 48 local stores closing since 2008.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association represents independently owned stores in Hamilton as well as a number of Big Bee, Mac’s, Esso and Pioneer stores, Bryans said.
“Twenty per cent of our market has closed and some are just hanging on,” Bryans said.
Contraband cigarettes can be found in the homes of one in three smokers, said Bryans, whose organization represents 7,500 stores across Ontario.
The majority come in the form of 200 loose cigarettes sold in plastic bags and often originate from First Nations reserves, he said. Bryans said he has no issue with people driving to reserves to buy cigarettes.
His issue is with cigarettes “being delivered to this community and distributed illegally,” he said. “We have to find a way in this province and this country to stop this organized distribution network that’s infiltrating these neighbourhoods.”
The letter will also be sent to local MPPs and the Association of Ontario Municipalities. Coun. Brad Clark also asked if the association is looking into the sale of bath salts and synthetic marijuana in corner stores. This is a problem in Hamilton, he said. “There are convenience stores selling these things and these things are killing kids.”
Since 2010, there have been several large busts in the Hamilton area, Bryans said. A study done in Hamilton in 2010 shows that local contraband usage is as high as 26 per cent.
The letter will urge increased fines for those convicted of offences related to contraband tobacco and more authority for law enforcement to seize items and impound vehicles related to contraband tobacco.