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P.E.I.'s proposal for a 'smoke-free generation' could cause illegal cigarette sales to rise: advocacy group

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Provincial governments across Canada are closely watching Prince Edward Island's push to end cigarette sales to the next generation, a proposal they called "Tobacco-Free Generation" (TFG).

The proposal is part of the Island's "Live Well" health plan, where Islanders born on or after a certain date would never be able to buy tobacco.

Rick Barnum, executive director of the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco and recently retired deputy commissioner with the Ontario Provincial Police, has concerns with the Island's potential plans.

"In this case, the strategy or theory about a smokeless generation going forward is great, however the problem is we already see underage smoking on the rise with contraband tobacco because store owners and people like that are not in place to check for ID's," he said during an interview with CTV Atlantic's Todd Battis.

"So what we see happening right now already is that underage smoking being on the rise with contraband, and as a result we worry in the future that organized crime will be selling even more contraband tobacco to fill a void that legitimate tobacco sales would now."

As far as policing a smoke-free generation, Barnum admits he's not sure how that would be achieved.

"We pretty much think that it's really not enforceable. Actually, I really don't know how you would do it," said Barnum.

Canada's contraband cigarette sales is now a billion-dollar business, according to Barnum.

"In Ontario, in three years alone, they figure that they lose over $1.2 billion at the low side of the estimate. In Eastern Canada, we see our numbers continue to grow with contraband tobacco sales," he said.

"So, it's a significant challenge and we're worried that the strategy or the theory of a smoke-free generation would cause, in government, if they want to put that in place, we're strongly suggesting address the contraband side. Give law enforcement the tools, the regulations, the law that they need to make a dent or it could be a real problem."

Barnum points to Quebec as an example where they've addressed the contraband tobacco and illegal marijuana situation by putting specific teams in place to deal with these types of situations.

"And they return more money to the government every year, times nine last year, than the government spends on those teams. So, there is a good model, there is good ways to do it, but you have to address it. You just can't ignore it."

Barnum says he believes those involved in the contraband cigarette business are already trying to figure out how they can capitalize on something like a smoke-free generation law if it goes forward.

He says he would be interested to sit down with government officials on P.E.I. to discuss the TFG strategy and explain to them what could happen if it moves forward as is.

Currently, P.E.I. has a survey online until July 5 for Islanders to weigh in on the entire health plan, which includes the tobacco proposal.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Todd Battis

For more Prince Edward Island news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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