January 26, 2011 - Research commissioned last year by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in advance of a planned $5-million advertising campaign designed to educate the public and raise awareness of the problem with black-market cigarettes. The agency hired the research firm Phase 5 to test-drive the proposed campaign with eight focus groups in Ontario and Quebec, made up of 64 smokers in their teens and early 20s.
What the researchers discovered suggests the government’s message will be a tough sell.
Among 16-to-24-year-old smokers, the level of awareness and knowledge of contraband cigarettes is “very high.” Most focus group participants could readily describe their taste, appearance and packaging and knew where to buy them.
It was clear, the researchers said, that the “vast majority” of participants had bought and smoked illegal cigarettes. They talked about buying them from school friends, co-workers, directly from native reserves and even under the counter from convenience stores.
Most didn’t consider black-market cigarettes to be particularly harmful, said the researchers. Though participants in the focus groups knew they were illegal, “they are so common that this is not a concern or something they think about.”
In fact, a majority didn’t oppose their sale.
Almost all said they buy contraband cigarettes because of their low cost. A carton of legal cigarettes with tax sells for between $70 and $106 in Canada. By contrast, a carton of black-market cigarettes can be had for $10 or less.
About 30 per cent of tobacco purchased in Canada is bought illegally, according to a 2009 report by the Task Force on Illicit Tobacco Products. In Ontario and Quebec, where the problem is most acute, as many as half of all cigarettes are illegal. An estimated 13 billion black-market cigarettes were bought in 2008, the task force said.
The illegal trade is costing governments hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue. But federal pronouncements have focused on the impact on public safety. The RCMP estimates that 175 organized crime groups were involved, to varying degrees, in the contraband tobacco trade in Canada last year.
While the research findings aren’t statistically representative, they were apparently emphatic enough to make the CRA rethink its approach. Its advertising campaign, which was supposed to launch last fall, is still in the works.
Reference: Young smokers think Ottawa’s blowing smoke on black-market tobacco
by Don Butler (firstname.lastname@example.org), Postmedia News, The Ottawa Citizen, 1/24/2011.
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