For immediate release:
Apr 15, 2008

TOBACCO CONTROL

Ms. Laurie Scott: My question is to the Minister of Revenue. Minister, on your website there are numerous news releases from your ministry that boast of your revenue investigators collecting taxes and seizing illegal tobacco products from vendors across Ontario. Each one of your news releases contains this line: "Vigorous enforcement of the Tobacco Tax Act is an important component of the Ontario government's smoke-free Ontario strategy."

As the Minister of Revenue, can you tell us if your government is collecting cigarette taxes on the revenue from the smoke shop located on government-owned property on Argyle Street in Caledonia?

Hon. Monique M. Smith: To the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: I thank the minister for allowing me the opportunity to answer the question. Since October 2003, Ontario has taken many steps to attack illegal, contraband cigarette sales, including the Tobacco Tax Act. Convictions under the act have doubled between 2005 and 2007, and over the past two years 28 million contraband cigarettes, 177,000 untaxed cigars and a large quantity of fine-cut tobacco have been seized by Ministry of Revenue investigators and inspectors. Indeed, we are proud of the work the investigators and the inspectors are doing in the ministry.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary? The member from Thornhill.

Mr. Peter Shurman: The revenue ministry's website " discourages non-compliance through enforcement activities." Last year, this province lost $565 million in tobacco tax revenue due to the sale of illicit cigarettes in smoke shacks and the inability of this government to enforce its own laws. Illicit cigarettes now count for 37% of all cigarettes sold in the province, and it's estimated to go to 50% of cigarettes sold by 2010.

Will the minister inform this House as to when the people of Ontario can expect this ministry to order the seizure of tobacco products from smoke shacks and order the collection of all outstanding taxes owed from the sale of illegal cigarettes?

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: The member talks about enforcement. Indeed, we are very, very proud of the collective partnerships we've formed with regard to enforcement. But in fact enforcement against contraband tobacco was strengthened in our 2004 budget, our 2006 budget, our 2007 budget and our 2008 budget. Sadly, both parties across the way voted against that enforcement.