Organized crime is cashing in on tobacco.
Right now, contraband tobacco is not a big problem in Saskatchewan but a national lobby group says this could change unless governments, law enforcement and First Nations work together to combat the problem.
Gary Grant is the spokesman for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco.
He recently met with community leaders in Saskatchewan to talk about the growing problem that has already become an epidemic in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Grant says illegal activities usually start on reserves and then end up in the hands of organized crime.
He says contraband tobacco has become a huge moneymaker for criminals.
“They see it as a cash cow,” he says. “Basically, a low risk, high reward enterprise where they are making millions and millions and millions of dollars on it and they are doing it on the backs of our young people.”
Grant says a national approach is needed to stop the sale of illegal tobacco.
He is encouraging community leaders to be pro-active and put together an action plan.
“The feds have to talk to the provincial government, the departments within those governments have to talk to one another and indeed I think they really need to talk to the First Nations people to try to come up with a solution that is equitable to everybody.”
A senate committee is currently reviewing federal legislation to toughen penalties for selling contraband tobacco.
The law would set out new minimum and maximum sentences under a new criminal code offense.
Grant says this is a good approach but he also says police need more powers to combat the contraband trade.