The Canadian Convenience Stores Association says the Ontario government has turned a blind eye to the issue of contraband cigarette sales throughout the province.
As part of its province-wide tour, the CCSA recently made a stop at Greer's Variety on Indian Road South to draw attention to the issue.
The association says the two senior levels of government are losing $2.5 billion in taxation each year due to the illegal tobacco industry, while convenience stores are losing about $2 billion annually in sales.
An example of baggies of contraband cigarettes sold at many smoke shacks on many First Nation communities throughout Ontario and Quebec.
"It's unconscionable that nothing is being done (by the provincial government) with the contraband issue," says Peter Sleeman, Ontario's Regional Coordinator for the CCSA.
He says 350 "smoke shacks" in Ontario and Quebec make it impossible for legitimate convenience store retailers to compete, noting that some illegal operations sell Ziploc baggies of 200 cigarettes for as little as $11, while the average price for a carton of smokes in a convenience store in Ontario is about $80. Sleeman says the shacks are fuelled by "a network of sophisticated criminal organizations."
He was not aware how many "smoke shacks" operate in Sarnia-Lambton, but he does say that about 40 per cent of all cigarettes sold in the province are purchased illegally.
"In Mr. McGuinty's Ontario, we have a double standard when it comes to the sale of tobacco–rules for those who obey the law and another set of rules for those who don't," added Sleeman.
Sleeman says his association is not naive enough to think the industry will be wiped out by their ongoing campaign, but he says the provincial government can show some leadership by "doing something."
Meantime, the owner of Greer's Variety in Sarnia says his business has dropped 50 per cent over the past four years due primarily to contraband cigarette sales.
"Everything is down," said Steve Choi.
He says when customers are not coming into his store to buy cigarettes, he also loses out of them buying a variety of other items such as lottery tickets, milk and chocolate bars.
A request for comment from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex Liberal MPP Maria Van Bommel went unanswered.
By Barry Wright