11:40pm Thursday 09 April 2020

Contraband cigarettes are big in teen market

(Toronto) – Teens who smoke are buying cheaper contraband cigarettes in large numbers across Canada, according to a study co-authored by Dr. Russell Callaghan of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The study was published today by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The untaxed contraband cigarettes are available in a thriving underground market from some First Nations and Native organizations in Ontario and Quebec and, at $3-$4, sell for about a third of the price of legitimate or name brands. Previous studies have found that adult smokers of the contraband cigarettes are less likely to try to quit smoking. This has troubling implications for teens who use these cigarettes while developing their smoking habit, however, “the use of contraband cigarettes by teens is not considered in most of our health promotion activities directed at teens,” says Dr. Callaghan.

This study helps to round out the picture of teen smoking in Canada, he adds. “Increasing the price of cigarettes in stores, or taking them off the open shelves in convenience stores, is not going to be an effective way to reach those teens who access contraband cigarettes,” he says.  

Numbers highest in Ontario, Quebec

The study asked teens in secondary schools across Canada about their smoking choices. Of the 2,849 who smoke, about 17.5 % use First Nations or Native brand cigarettes. The numbers are even higher in central Canada, with 26.3 % in Ontario and 30% of teen smokers in Quebec buying the contraband smokes. In contrast, less than 4% of teens in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador use the contraband cigarettes.

More than 40,000 high school students in grades nine to 12 filled out the 2006/2007 Youth Smoking Survey across 10 provinces. The students who identified themselves as smoking at least one cigarette a day were asked which brand they usually smoked.

Issues of the contraband-cigarette trade and First Nations jurisdictions and are complex, adds Dr. Callaghan. “Now we know that policy directed at teen smokers needs to take their access to contraband cigarettes into consideration,” he says.

Funding for this study came from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, in a grant to CAMH.


Media Contact: Michael Torres, CAMH Media Relations; 416-595-6015 


The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development, prevention and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.

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