Illegal Tobacco

Frequently Asked Questions About Illegal Tobacco


How do I know if I'm buying legal cigarettes?

Legal cigarettes are identified by:

  • Ontario's yellow tear tape:
    Ontario's yellow tear strip: ONTARIO - CANADA DUTY PAID - DROIT ACQUITTÉ
  • the term "ON" printed on the outside of the package, and
  • a purchase price that is more than $47.12 per carton.

Cigarettes sold in clear, plastic bags are illegal. Cigarettes sold in packages with tear tape other than Ontario's yellow tear tape are illegal cigarettes, subject to certain limited exceptions.

For example, cigarette packages with peach-coloured "CANADA — DUTY PAID — DROIT ACQUITTÉ" tear tape or a peach-coloured federal stamp may be sold at authorized duty-free stores. Also, some on-reserve retailers are authorized to buy limited quantities of cigarette packages with peach-coloured tear tape or a peach-coloured stamp that are to be sold only on reserves to First Nation consumers, who are Indians as defined under the federal Indian Act, for their exclusive use.

If you are aware of cigarettes being sold illegally you can anonymously report this information to Ontario Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, or by leaving an anonymous tip online.


Why is there new legislation to address illegal tobacco?

The Ontario government is renewing its commitment to the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy by taking new steps to protect youth from the dangers of smoking and help smokers quit.

The increasing availability of low-cost, illegal cigarettes threatens to undermine what the government has accomplished under its Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy.

Amendments to the Tobacco Tax Act advance the government's longstanding goal of reducing the use of tobacco throughout the province.

Tobacco use in Ontario costs $7.7 billion each year in direct health care ($1.9 billion) and related productivity losses ($5.8 billion).


What has the Ontario government done so far to deal with illegal tobacco?

In six of the last eight years, Ontario has introduced measures to strengthen enforcement against the illegal manufacture and sale of tobacco products. The following results have been achieved with improved enforcement:

  • Ministry investigators and inspectors seized 172 million illegal cigarettes, one million untaxed cigars and 48 million grams of fine-cut tobacco between April 1, 2008 and September 30, 2011.
  • During fiscal 2009-10, investigations almost tripled compared to fiscal 2008-09.
  • Ministry staff conduct, on average, 450 tobacco retailer inspections each month.
  • Penalties assessed against those violating the Tobacco Tax Act total over $21.1 million since March 2006.

In addition, the Ontario government banned smoking in public places and workplaces and in vehicles where there are young people 16 years of age or younger. The government also banned the promotion and display of tobacco products at point of sale and requires Ontario-licensed tobacco retailers to ask for proof of age when selling tobacco.


What kind of results can I expect from the new legislation?

The new legislation builds on the Ontario government's commitment to reduce smoking.

The legislation provides new tools to enable the ministry's enforcement staff and police services to better control the availability of illegal tobacco.

These new measures include authorizing police officers to seize illegal cigarettes discovered in plain view. The legislation also includes revised fine levels for convictions of possessing illegal cigarettes that better reflect the extent and type of offence committed.

With the new measures, all types of raw leaf tobacco grown in and imported into Ontario (i.e., flue-cured, black/dark and burley – partially and fully processed) will be controlled to ensure raw leaf tobacco stays in the legal market.

The Ontario government is also taking new steps to protect youth from the dangers cheap, illegal tobacco and help smokers quit.


When does the new legislation come into effect?

New Measure Effective Date
Fine levels: New fine levels for offences related to possessing illegal cigarettes better reflect the extent and type of offence committed. June 1, 2011
Police seizures: Police officers now have authority to seize illegal cigarettes discovered in plain view. Once the marking of fine-cut tobacco is implemented, police officers will also have the authority to seize illegal, fine-cut tobacco discovered in plain view. June 1, 2011 (there will be a planning and transition period)
Raw leaf tobacco: The regulation of raw leaf tobacco will come under the Tobacco Tax Act and be expanded to include all types of raw leaf tobacco (i.e., flue-cured, burley, black/dark – partially and fully processed) grown in and imported into Ontario. October 1, 2012 (for the 2013 growing season)
Marking scheme: A marking scheme for fine-cut tobacco will make it easier for law enforcement officials to identify illegal, fine-cut tobacco. Once the marking of fine-cut tobacco is implemented, police officers will also have the authority to seize illegal fine-cut tobacco discovered in plain view. April 1, 2013

What are the consequences of selling illegal cigarettes?

Tobacco retailers found selling illegal cigarettes may be subject to penalties, fines, imprisonment, and a prohibition from selling tobacco.


What are the revised fine levels for individuals convicted of possessing illegal cigarettes?

The new fine levels for possessing illegal cigarettes are:

  • $100 plus three times the tax for possessing up to 200 illegal cigarettes
  • $250 plus three times the tax for possessing between 201 and 1,000 illegal cigarettes
  • $500 plus three times the tax for possessing between 1,001 and 10,000 illegal cigarettes

A person convicted of possessing more than 10,000 illegal cigarettes or any number of illegal cigarettes for the purpose of sale is subject to the current minimum fine of $500 plus three times the tax.


Why is a new registration system for tobacco growers being implemented?

Currently, the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers' Marketing Board regulates flue-cured tobacco grown in Ontario.

The new legislation expands provincial oversight to include all types of raw leaf tobacco (i.e., flue-cured, black/dark and burley) grown in and imported into Ontario. Partially and fully processed tobacco will be included.

The Ministry of Finance will work closely with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers' Marketing Board, tobacco growers, importers and others to implement the new regulatory changes.


Where can I get information on the government's plans to help more people quit smoking and ensure young people don't pick up the habit?

The Ontario government is taking further action to protect youth from the dangers of cheap, illegal cigarettes and other tobacco products and help smokers quit.

The following links provide more information:

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