A new study on illegal tobacco which examined discarded cigarette butts throughout Alberta has found contraband tobacco use has increased by 25 percent over the last year.
The Western Convenience Store Association commissioned the study that took place over a 10 day period last month at 38 sites throughout the province.
President Andrew Klukas one of the concerning findings was the number of high schools where contraband is being found.
“Three out of the top ten sites in Alberta were high schools and that’s definitely concerning. Crescent Heights in Medicine Hat 26.4%, East Glen High School in Edmonton 20.9% and Queen Elizabeth in Calgary 20.6%. That’s one of the problems with contraband. It’s not a controlled product. Our members do age-testing to restrict access to youth. Those who are trafficking in contraband don’t. They will sell it out of a white van or even in plastic baggies on a street corner.”
Overall illegal tobacco use in Alberta was over 12 percent, up over three percentage points from 2015. Klukas says two things have changed in Alberta since last year-the economy has worsened, and tobacco taxes increased by $10 a carton. He says Alberta could definitely use more resources to fight contraband.
“Alberta has a fairly good regime in place in terms of laws and enforcement measures but it’s the focus and the resources. You need boots on the ground. Our retailers tell us they do a very good job of auditing lottery sales but they’re not paying as much attention to tobacco issues and that’s what we’d like to see…more resourcing and more commitment to this issue.
Calgary’s rate of illegal tobacco consumption jumped from 8.8 per cent last year to 11 per cent this year.
Two Calgary locations, Queen Elizabeth High School , and Southcentre Mall made the top 10 list of highest illegal tobacco use sites in the province.
Medicine Hat has the highest illegal tobacco rate of any municipality in the province at 15 per cent.