I was eleven when I tried my first cigarette. Eleven. My youngest is eleven now and every time I look at her I can’t imagine a cigarette dangling between her lips. I can only imagine how absurd I must have looked, all 80 lbs of me, lighting up a cigarette. That one act, led to another and another and by the time I was 16, I was smoking a full pack of cigarettes a day. I smoked for 20 years when all was said and done. Since I quit, I’ve lived in fear that the health consequences have still not reared their ugly head for me.
This is not a reality I want for my kids.
I’ve had countless discussions with my daughters about smoking. For a time I was encouraged to see our government placing warnings on cigarettes, putting them behind doors at stores, demanding ID to purchase them and taxing them sky-high. These are all good deterrents for the next generation.
Unfortunately, the corner store is not the only place cigarettes can be obtained. With 50 illegal factories producing cigarettes in Ontario and Quebec, there are over 10,000 contraband cigarettes produced every minute. That’s millions of illegal cigarettes a year.
What’s the big deal, right? Smokers are only harming themselves. WRONG.
Illegal tobacco is big business representing $75 million in pure profit every year. That’s millions of dollars lining the pockets of organized crime. The money raised from the sale of illegal tobacco is linked to gang activity and a rise of illegal guns on the street. And nobody’s talking about it.
Most of us simply don’t know how big an issue it is. When polled, almost half of Ontarians were unaware that illegal tobacco is fueling gun and drug trafficking and were completely unconcerned with this growing industry. Once average citizens were informed that the funds raised from the sale of illegal tobacco was aiding gang activity, our concern jumped from 30% to 76%. No surprise, because it’s not just the smoker harming themselves anymore.
Awareness is obviously the key in this fight. The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco is a Canadian advocacy group formed with the participation of businesses, organizations and individuals concerned about they growing danger of contraband cigarettes. They’ve started an ad campaign to raise awareness among Ontarians. For me, this means knowing that it’s not just the devastating health effects of cigarettes that I need to be concerned about for my daughters but also the illegal guns and gang activity that affects all of us.
To learn more about the sale of illegal tobacco in Ontario and Quebec, visit StopIllegalTobacco.ca. Join the discussion on Twitter by using the hashtag #StopIllegalTobacco