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In a recently published article in Tobacco Control, Vander Beken and
colleagues  concluded that the Belgian cigarette black-market
manifested myriad links with the legitimate business world and, as a
result, effective tobacco control policies will need to address the role
of legitimate businesses in this market. Our letter confirms this
conclusion within a Canadian context.
Approximately 10-17% of cigarettes...
Approximately 10-17% of cigarettes smoked in Canada in 2005-2006 were
illicit, and 95% of all illicit cigarettes (i.e., contraband) in Canada
were manufactured on First Nations reserves in the provinces of Ontario
and Québec [2,3]. Even though two-thirds of contraband cigarette consumers
report buying contraband cigarettes at off-reserve locations , little
is known about the distribution network of contraband cigarettes in
Previously, we examined the contraband cigarette market at one of
Canada's largest psychiatric hospitals, a 436-bed facility located in
Toronto . Approximately 60% of the cigarette butts sampled from patient
ashtrays appeared to be contraband; and 80% of the cigarette packages
found in a facility-wide garbage audit at the psychiatric hospital were
from illicit brands manufactured on American Indian reservations in
northern New York State. Anecdotal evidence suggested that independent
convenience stores were serving as a prominent distribution source for
native-manufactured contraband cigarettes, and the current letter examined
We assessed the prevalence of legitimate independent convenience
stores willing to sell illicit native-manufactured cigarettes in Toronto,
Ontario. A list of all independent convenience store tobacco retailers in
the study area was obtained from the City of Toronto. Our sample included
all of the 115 independent convenience stores located within a 2 km
distance from the psychiatric hospital: 30 within 1 km, and 85 within the
1-2 km span. Data collection occurred during July and August 2007. A male
research assistant (aged 36 years) entered each of the 115 stores and
asked the clerk, "Do you have any native cigarettes?" A store was coded
as willing to sell illicit native cigarettes, if: (1) the clerk provided
an affirmative answer; (2) the clerk engaged the research assistant in a
selling transaction (e.g., the clerk asked the research assistant, "How
much money do you have?"); or (3) the research assistant saw the clerk
selling illicit native-manufactured cigarettes to another customer.
Legitimate independent convenience stores located closer to the
psychiatric hospital were significantly more likely to be willing to sell
illicit native-manufactured cigarettes. Approximately 57% (17/30) of the
stores within 1 km of the hospital were willing to sell contraband
cigarettes, while roughly 12% (10/85) of the stores located in the 1-2 km
zone showed the same tendency (chi-square = 24.9, p < 0.001).
Similar to the findings of Vander Beken, et al. 2008, our results
suggest that Ontario tobacco-control policies will need to recognize
legitimate businesses—in our case, independent convenience stores—as
important sources in the distribution network of black-market cigarettes.
1. T Vander Beken, J Janssens, K Verpoest, A Balcaen, and F Vander
Laenen. Crossing geographical, legal and moral boundaries: The Belgian
cigarette black market. Tobacco Control 2008; 17:60-65.
2. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. Warning signs about cigarette
smuggling: And actions governments can take to address this growing
problem. Ottawa: Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada; 2006 December.
3. Imperial Tobacco. Collateral damage: Illicit tobacco trade takes
on phenomenal proportions. 2006 [cited 2007 February 5th]; Available
4. GFK Research Dynamics. New Information on Illegal Tobacco Sales:
National Study for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.
Mississauga, ON: Imperial Tobacco; 2007 July.
5. RC Callaghan, J Tavares, and L Taylor. Illicit cigarette markets
in marginalized, low-income populations: an example from psychiatric
patients in Toronto, Ontario. American Journal of Public Health 2008; 98:4