The Atlantic Convenience Store Association is repeating calls for tougher New Brunswick legislation to deal with illegal tobacco.

Mike Hammoud, Atlantic Convenience Store Association president

Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Store Association, has been calling for the New Brunswick government to crack down on contraband cigarettes for years. (Marc Genuist/CBC)

The group says millions of contraband cigarettes are being sold in the province, with the average rate now at about 22 per cent, up from eight per cent four years ago.

"We think that this is a number that is way too high. We're looking at one in five cigarettes sold in this province that are illegal," said association president Mike Hammoud.

He contends new tougher laws and fines in Quebec have led to organized crime crossing into New Brunswick in search of sales.

"If you're caught with more than 10,000 cigarettes of contraband in Quebec, it's a minimum $2.5 million fine," said Hammoud.

By comparison, a Quebec man who pleaded guilty last summer in Edmundston provincial court to being in possession of 150,000 contraband cigarettes, was fined $80,375.

Quebec police detachments are also now allowed to keep any proceeds of crime that come from any convictions,  instead of handing the money over to the federal government, said Hammoud.

Contraband cigarettes seized by RCMP


The new Quebec rules have helped cut the rate of illegal tobacco in that province in half, he said during a news conference in Moncton on Thursday.

"I think what's happened is that Quebec has done such a great job at getting rid of contraband that now it's just leaving their province and coming into New Brunswick," he said.

A recent survey by the association found the rate of illegal cigarette butts to be 35 per cent at the Campbellton mall, 28 per cent at the Moncton Hospital and 16 per cent at the Tim Hortons in Rexton, Hammoud said.

NIRIC, an independent Montreal-based research firm, collected and analyzed almost 4,000 cigarette butts obtained in May and June from 27 locations across the province.

Overall findings are considered to be accurate to within 1.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20, it says.

Hammoud says his organization has been lobbying the New Brunswick government for tougher laws with little success.

But he argues the province is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue as a result.

A baggie of 200 illegal cigarettes, for example, represents about $45 in provincial taxes if those cigarettes were sold legally, said Hammoud.