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Charged with Contraband Tobacco – What You Need To Know

If you have been charged with contraband tobacco or are simply curious about how purchasing, possessing or distributing contraband tobacco amounts to an offence under Ontario law, then keep reading to educate yourself about this growing topic.

The Law

Under the Tobacco Tax Act, unless otherwise authorized, it is illegal to buy, possess or distribute any quantity of untaxed cigarettes or any other untaxed tobacco products. For more information about tobacco, related taxes and penalties, refer to the Tobacco Tax Act.

The Police Rationale on Contraband Tobacco

The presence of contraband tobacco in Ontario undermines the government’s efforts to reduce smoking rates and protect children and youth from the dangers of smoking. The issue is that contraband cigarettes can be purchased for just a few dollars. Such activities can generate profits that fuel other criminal activity, including trafficking of drugs or purchasing illegal weapons. It also results in a loss of government tax revenue. Accordingly, possessing contraband tobacco is a criminal offence in Ontario and is taken quite seriously. As you keep reading, you will learn that a sentence of jail is a very real possibility.

Law Enforcement Addressing Contraband Tobacco

The Ministry of Finance works closely with various law enforcement agencies such as, but not limited to, the RCMP, local public health units, the Ontario Provincial Police and Crime Stoppers to combat and hopefully reduce the presence and possession of contraband tobacco. The government is well aware of the problem and has in place an effective system of tackling the issue. Thus, it is important to be careful and avoid possessing contraband tobacco. The penalty is simply not worth the risk to save a few dollars.

How to Identify Legal Cigarettes and Fine Cut Tobacco

Packages of legal cigarettes and fine cut tobacco in Ontario are identified by the Ontario-adapted federal tobacco stamp. A tobacco stamp contains security features and has a yellow background with the letters “ON” in white and in black letters the words ‘DUTY PAID CANADA DROIT ACQUITTÉ‘. Cigarettes and fine cut tobacco sold in packages without a legal “ON”, ‘DUTY PAID CANADA DROIT ACQUITTÉ’ tobacco stamp are illegal; this is subject to very limited exceptions.

Violating the Law

Packages of cigarettes that do not have the tobacco stamp are classified as unmarked cigarettes. Without proper authorization under the Tobacco Tax Act, it is against the law to have any packages of cigarettes or fine cut tobacco that do not have a legal “ON”, ‘DUTY PAID CANADA DROIT ACQUITTÉ’ tobacco stamp. Consequences involve civil penalties and if you are charged and convicted of this offence, you will likely face possible fines, jail time or even both.

Consequences of Conviction

If you are convicted of possessing unmarked cigarettes, you may be fined three times the tax on the unmarked cigarettes you possessed in addition to the following:

  • a fine of $100 if you possessed 200 unmarked cigarettes or less
  • a fine of $250 if you possessed more than 200 unmarked cigarettes but less than 1,001
  • a fine of $500 if you possessed more than 1,000 unmarked cigarettes but less than 10,001
  • a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $10,000 if you possessed more than 10,000 unmarked cigarettes.

If you are convicted of selling unmarked tobacco products or possession for the purpose of selling them, the fines can be huge.

Consequences of a Second Conviction of the Same Offence

If it is not your first conviction for possessing unmarked cigarettes or if you are in possession of more than 10,000 unmarked cigarettes, you are now looking at jail time, specifically, up to two years in jail.

The Aitken Robertson Team

If you have already been charged with the offence of possessing, selling or distributing contraband tobacco, then it is advised that you speak to one of the lawyers at Aitken Robertson. With our knowledge and experience in criminal defence law, we can work with you to fight your charge(s) and put forth a strong defence. The strength of your case will depend on the specific facts and surrounding circumstances of your matter. We offer 30-minute free consultations and cover a wide jurisdiction.


Yasmine Al-Zaman

Yasmine’s patience, compassion and understanding allow her to work collaboratively and effectively with her clients. She appreciates the level of fear and confusion most people feel when confronted with the legal system. With that in mind, Yasmine puts her best foot forward to offer quality legal services.

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