TORONTO — A coalition of health groups is calling on the Ontario government to do more to prevent kids from smoking contraband cigarettes.
The Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco estimates more than 60,000 Ontario students who already smoke are puffing contraband cigarettes.
Dr. Marco Di Buono of the Heart and Stroke Foundation says that figure is a "conservative estimate."
He says most smokers start before the age of 20 and of those who stay addicted long-term, about half die from the health effects of smoking.
Contraband cigarettes include First Nations-made clear plastic bags -- so-called baggies -- of 200 cigarettes or tax-free legal brands made off-reserve.
Emily Butko of the Ontario Lung Association says all it takes is a couple of phone calls to find someone selling contraband from the trunk of their car.
She says cost is a main reason why youth quit smoking, and with contraband smokes, there is no incentive to quit and it's so easy to start.
The coalition is calling for more police resources to clamp down on contraband smokes and for the province to prohibit the supply of raw materials to unlicensed cigarette manufacturers.
It also wants to see a health-based marking on each cigarette sold in Ontario, such as the toll-free number for a smokers helpline.
"The increasing availability of contraband is undermining doctors' years of work on tobacco control," said Dr. Suzanne Strasberg, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
"We don't want someone selling cigarette baggies to our kids, or to our adult patients."
It only takes a few phone calls, but I don't know of too many people who'd give a damn to rat out the person getting them cheap smokes.