I was 13 when I smoked my first cigarette. My friend had offered me her cigarettes many times, but I had no problem telling her I wasn’t interested. Then that day came along. Our home economics class had been released from the confines of a classroom in order to do some price checking at a nearby grocery store. None of my close friends were in this class, so I found myself walking to the store with a girl that I didn’t know well, but I enjoyed her company. She pulled out a cigarette and offered it to me, and I took it.
It was the first day of a fifteen year journey of quitting and starting over and over again. It was the first day of coughing and wheezing from inhaling toxic chemicals and smoke. There’s no doubt that smoking is bad for you, and I truly wish I had never started, but the problem is so much bigger than just the health of the smoker.
When I started smoking, there was no age limit on purchasing cigarettes. That came soon afterwards, but it didn’t stop me or my friends from buying them. On the rare occasion that the law was enforced, we would just move on to another store to buy them. It was far too easy. Those laws are enforced more these days, but that hasn’t stopped kids from getting their hands on cigarettes. In fact, it has created a much bigger problem. Today, 1 in 3 cigarettes purchased in Ontario are illegal. In other provinces the average is 1 in 10. Think about that for a moment….
33% of the cigarettes in Ontario are illegal.
This problem goes far beyond providing tobacco to children. Illegal cigarettes fund criminal activities like drug trafficking, gun trafficking and organized crime. The cigarettes that minors are smoking are putting guns in the hands of some of the most dangerous people in our country. The cigarettes that kids smoke are allowing criminals to produce an estimated profit of $75 million annually across Canada.
Today, more than ever, we are confronted with violence. We know what evil looks like. We need to teach our kids that purchasing illegal cigarettes plays a role in gun violence, in drug overdoses and in organized crime in Ontario. Their choices go far beyond themselves. It’s unfortunate that our children need to learn and understand these lessons from a younger age than we did, but it is the reality.
I was 28 when I smoked my last cigarette. I dream of the day that cigarettes are not so readily available to kids, so that no one else ever has to make their way through that starting and quitting journey. So how can we stop the spread of illegal tobacco? There are suggestions at www.stopillegaltobacco.ca that will guide you, and hopefully help us put an end to illegal cigarettes.