DANGEROUS SMOKE SIGNALS
The first time I heard this radio ad against illegal tobacco, I was driving through a suitable setting.
It was Alderville First Nation, where Highway 45 is lined with signs, often crudely lettered, about the cheap native cigarettes and tobacco products to be bought in all the outlets that form a deadly gauntlet.
The ad warned of an incredible fact, that is if you believe this province is law-abiding. One out of every three cigarettes sold in Ontario is illegal. And that is the foundation of the evil treasury that provides up to $75 million each year to fund, the ad says, "the guns and drugs and gang violence we see on our streets every day."
Apparently only Panama has more illegal smokes than this province on this side of the Atlantic.
Drive from 401 into the Kawarthas and about 30 km. north of Coburg you find this Hades of cheap smokes. Just to the north is Roseneath, which features an antique carousel that I once enquired about buying for the Ex. But the main feature for everyone is bargains in smokes and gasoline.
Only about one-third of the Mississauguas, around 325, live on the reserve at the east end of Rice Lake with the rest clustered along the highway. The strip attracts a lot of traffic because there are two service stations selling gas that is always at least a dime cheaper than in Toronto. There used to be just one, which is cash only, but then the Esso outlet dropped its prices so it's one cent above its competitor.
Unfortunately, the natives get it much cheaper than even that. They don't have to pay those government taxes, just like all the other tax breaks they get although there is a growing feeling that there should be a statute of limitation on making the victors pay eternally since that doesn't happen in most of the world.
Please don't get your knickers in a twist because I have had the temerity to mention native Canadians in connection with any crooked schemes to avoid taxes on tobacco.
I haven't sampled the tobacco wares of Alderville as to the prices, taxes being charged and the quality. But my friends who smoke certainly boast of the bargains there. And then there are their secrets about the real bargains to be had that slip under the government's tax radar.
Unfortunately for the huge majority of natives who not only are not involved in this lucrative trade but hate those who are because the bad PR fallout hurts their causes, the evidence is overwhelming, from what Christie Blatchford unearthed in her great book about Caledon, and from what senior cops have told me, that much of the ugly civil disobedience by masked native activists is supported financially by the underground factories that produce cartons for up to $20 when the legal cartons sell for nearly $90.
At those prices, I thank heaven that I was a non-driven smoker, so it wasn't that difficult to quit. (Although I do miss my Brigham pipe and Cuban cigars - but not Cohibas at the later prices) After all, apart from the cost, the evidence is iron-clad that smoking kills. And so, the ad says, do all the guns that gangs can buy because like the terrorists in Syria from oil, they have all the money they need from their black-market product.
I have no idea what proportion of the illegal cigarettes being sold around me come from native sources. One problem is that the Mounties and OPP are careful when talking about any of this because they just don't need the hassles from chiefs, politicians and the PC patrols.
I have the wish, which I suspect will always be an illusion, that when I continue to drive Highway 45, which I do about 40 times a year, that those '"cheap smoke" signs will disappear in a year or two. (I also have another vain hope that those two service stations will no longer be pumping all that cheap gas for anyone who shows a native card. )
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimated a few years ago that up to a billion dollars annually is lost by federal and provincial jurisdictions by this avoidance of tobacco taxes.
Just imagine what our governments could do with that money. That also would be a billion that you and I wouldn't have to fork over in extra taxes. Of course in a Utopia, we wouldn't have to spend all those billions in health care looking after smokers.
This may be the only ad campaign I will support this year. In fact, I would welcome more of these ads, which really would be a first for me. And I suspect many Canadians agree, but not, of course, brazen smokers, and those quick to take offence who will say that this has nothing to do with any ethnic group.