Canadian C-Store Groups Warn Manitoba Premier on 'Smoke Shacks'

Government tolerance will open "floodgates" to more illegal outlets

OAKVILLE, Ontario -- Following the official opening of what the Canadian and Western Convenience Stores Associations (CCSA & WCSA) are calling the province's first illegal smoke shack by the Dakota First Nations near Pipestone, Manitoba, the groups have called upon Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger to enforce current laws and avoid setting a dangerous precedent in the province with respect to the sale of contraband tobacco.

"If the Manitoba government allows just one illegal smoke shack to open and operate, 50 will follow suit leading to increased crime, higher tobacco consumption among minors, lost revenue for the province and the closure of countless legal convenience stores as has happened in Ontario and Québec. We do not believe that this is a trend that Manitobans support," said Michel Gadbois, the CCSA's senior vice president.

According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), close to 300 illegal smoke shacks currently operate in Quebec and Ontario selling goods produced in 50 illegal manufacturing plants, the groups said. All plants have operated illegally for the past decade without any interference from the government, they said. These manufacturers and smoke shacks sell a large majority of their tobacco products to nonnatives who avoid the tobacco taxes and save up to 75% on the legal price sold in convenience stores.

They have also consistently disregarded tobacco control regulations by selling to minors, the groups said.

"We are certainly sympathetic to Natives rights, but not at the mercy of the hard-working and law-abiding convenience store owners who follow strict tobacco regulations and remit taxes but simply cannot compete with the illegal trade of contraband tobacco," said Doug Hartl, vice chair of WCSA.

"The government should step in immediately to either shut down the illegal smoke shack or ensure that the Dakota First Nations charge the taxes and respect all laws and regulations pertaining to tobacco," added Gadbois.

Since 2008, hundreds of c-store owners who have been in business for years have had to either close their stores or continue to struggle to survive simply because governments are not enforcing current laws, the groups said. "It is absurd that we must beg governments to enforce their own laws, but sadly, that's how little attention is given today to the issue of contraband tobacco," said Gadbois.

The CCSA represents the economic interests of more than 25,000 c-stores across Canada (with 800 in Manitoba) who serve Canadians for all their daily needs.

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