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OTTOWA, Ontario -- Canadian officials here are launching a public awareness campaign to fight the booming contraband cigarette market, an industry they say costs billions of dollars in lost tax revenues, CBC.ca reported.
Recent studies estimate more than 40 percent of tobacco smoked in Ontario and Quebec is contraband, according to the report.
"Right now the war on cigarettes is like the war on drugs," Sgt. Michael Harvey of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Cornwall, told the Web site. "It's just something that's out of control."
The campaign will remind the public that buying illegal smokes cheats small convenience stores of much-needed income.
In the coming year, cigarette cartons will be marked with a special security seal, according to Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who also suggested police could start seizing the cars of people who are caught with illegal cigarettes, the report stated.
The RCMP seizes tens of thousands of dollars worth of contraband cigarettes made on Mohawk reserves daily, according to the report.
High taxes on legal cigarettes upped demand for cheap, native smokes, and are fuelling the black market.
"We're losing around $2 billion each year because of contraband," Blackburn told CBC.ca.
But it's not just about the government's loss of revenue.
"You're not just sticking it to the tax man because you are buying these cheap cigarettes," Harvey said. "You're actually financing organized crime groups who are using this money to traffic drugs and firearms."
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