The owners of convenience stores in Quebec say it's the high taxes on cigarettes that are driving people to buy on the black market.

The depanneur owners want the federal and provincial governments to make serious cuts in the taxes so that a pack of 25 cigarettes would cost no more than $5.50, instead of the $8 to $10 it can cost now.

Three of the biggest groups representing convenience store operators launched a campaign Monday to inform the public of what they call the negative effects of excessive taxation.

The owners said that, far from discouraging smoking, high taxation levels on tobacco products simply persuade people to buy their smokes on the black market.

They pointed out that it deprives the governments of millions of dollars a year in revenues, and helps fund criminal organizations.

Meanwhile, the stores' bottom lines are suffering, with officials saying up to three depanneurs and small grocery stores are forced to close every day because of lost revenues.

Recent studies estimate more than 40 per cent of tobacco smoked in Ontario and Quebec is contraband.

Every day, the RCMP seize tens of thousands of dollars worth of contraband tobacco from boats loaded with cigarettes made on Mohawk reserves.

"We're losing around $2 billion each year because of contraband," federal Revenue Minster Jean-Pierre Blackburn said recently.