Convenience store owners are pointing to a high level illegal tobacco use in New Brunswick, based on a second survey of cigarette butts commissioned by the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association.

It found illegal tobacco was as high as 41 per cent at 27 sites tested in the province.

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A survey by store owners puts the use of illegal tobacco in New Brunswick at 20 per cent. (CBC)

"This should be a major concern for both the provincial government and taxpayers,” said Mike Hammoud, president of the association.

Illegal tobacco is tobacco for which the appropriate taxes have not been paid.

A survey of cigarette butts in the initial study in June showed 16 per cent of them were made with illegal tobacco. In a followup survey of the same 23 sites in September, the illegal percentage had increased to 20 per cent.

Four additional sites were added for the September survey. They were found to have a 30 per cent average for illegal tobacco.

"I’m concerned when one in five cigarette butts found throughout the province are illegal,” Doug Urquhart, a Fredericton convenience store owner, stated in a release.

“It’s a crime to sell contraband tobacco and the provincial government needs to be doing more to crack down on dealers,” said Urquhart.

'We need to get to the point where the risk for dealers isn’t worth the profit, but we’re a long way from that point.'- Doug Urquhart, Fredericton store owner

 “We need to get to the point where the risk for dealers isn’t worth the profit, but we’re a long way from that point.”

The research was carried out by NIRIC, a Montreal-based research firm. It collected and analyzed cigarette butts obtained from the communities of Grand Falls, Edmundston, Campbellton, Miramichi, Moncton, Oromocto, Fredericton, Sussex, Rexton and Saint John.

Almost 4,000 butts were collected and analyzed and the association says the overall findings are considered accurate within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The highest percentage of illegal tobacco was found at the Royal Canadian Legion in Miramichi, the City Centre Mall in Campbellton and the Dairy Queen in Edmundston. At each of those locations, 40 per cent of the butts were found to be from illegal tobacco.

The lowest presence of illegal tobacco was at Quispamsis Town Hall and the Kings Place Mall in Fredericton, each with four per cent.

In 2010, the RCMP estimated that one in three smokers in the Maritimes used illegal tobacco.

In its 2012-13 budget, the New Brunswick government forecast bringing in $150 million in tobacco tax revenue, but fell $15 million short of that target. The province's forecast for tobacco tax revenue in the current budget year is $157 million.

The convenience stores association intends to launch an illegal tobacco awareness campaign next year.