Canada, dat zich op de borst klopt als zijnde het land dat het beste geslaagd is om het tabaksgebruik te ‘ontmoedigen’ begint steeds meer de wrange vruchten te plukken van dat beleid. Alleen al in de laatste twee weken vonden er in Toronto, Ontario, vijftien overvallen plaats waarbij tabak in het spel was. Bij die overvallen werd veel geweld gebruikt.
Het stelen van sigaretten is erg lucratief in Canada waar de prijs van sigaretten huizenhoog is.
“The price of cigarettes has gone up so much, it’s a hot commodity right now,” says Detective Jeff Zammit of Crime Stoppers. He estimates at least 15 stores have been robbed in the past two weeks, about one a day.
At about $66 per carton, cigarettes are fast becoming currency — untraceable, easy to unload on the streets and, unlike the contents of cash registers, easy to snatch.
In early July, investigators from Durham and Toronto cracked what they say was a $1 million cigarette ring that targeted convenience stores across Greater Toronto. They arrested 10 people and laid 950 criminal charges involving 144 thefts from Halton to Peterborough.
Unlike stolen cars or jewelry, the evidence disappears, literally, in a puff of smoke.
“There’s not a lot of identifying features,” says Sergeant Paul Malik of the Durham Region police. “Everybody has a package of cigarettes.
“It’s been going on for a number of years,” he added. “It’s an up-and-down business.”
The ups, according to experts, coincide with prices.
“As taxes go up, crime levels will follow that increase,” says Dave Bryans, executive director of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.
“Tobacco taxes today are higher than they were in the ’90s, when we had the all-time high movement of cigarettes in the black market. And now we’re seeing the same return of the criminal element.”
The last time tobacco taxes were this high, in the early 1990s, smuggled and stolen cigarettes flourished on the black market. Smokers knew the drill: Just look for dusty cigarette packs behind the store counter and ask for the cheap stuff. Or look for the guy with the duffel bag at school, the mall or even in the office. The practice was so rampant, even the most outlandish rumours rang true.