First Nations call for regulation of legitimate tobacco market

NIPISSING FIRST NATION (May 8, 2008) – In response to government and RCMP concern over alleged trade of illicit tobacco, a First Nations leader is proposing a plan that would legitimize tobacco products produced and sold by First Nations.

Grand Council Chief John Beaucage is proposing the legitimization of the First Nations tobacco industry, involving self-regulation process whereby the First Nations tobacco industry would implement controls on tobacco such as marketing bans, licensing of tobacco retailers and implementing a taxation regime that would bring more competitive pricing to the industry and directly benefit First Nations health programs.

“First Nations have grown and traded tobacco for millennia and it has been an important part of our economy.  We have never given up that right,” said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage, who represents the 42-member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation. “This proposal will, in effect, legitimize the First Nations tobacco industry,” said Beaucage.  “I hope the government will be willing to support a ‘Made-in-First Nations’ solution to this matter in order to avoid confrontation.”

Although the Anishinabek Nation does not represent any tobacco growing communities, he will be speaking to First Nations leaders, First Nations tobacco industry and Cabinet Ministers about his proposal.  Everyone needs to be mindful that there may be negative consequences to any unilaterally imposed government solution to this matter.

Yesterday, The Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety and the RCMP Assistant Commissioner Raf Souccar announced the establishment of an RCMP Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Strategy, as well, a new government task force to address so-called trade of “illicit tobacco.”

Grand Council Chief Beaucage takes offence to the unilateral categorizing of the whole of the industry as organized crime.

“There is a marked difference between true organized crime, and those who produce, distribute and market First Nations tobacco products,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage.  “Some of these manufacturers already pay significant taxes.  Most of the distributors and retailers are legitimate and upstanding business people.  For the most part, the First Nations tobacco industry is not contraband or illicit in any way.”

“By all means, if criminal organization are involved and are benefiting by our tobacco industry, crack down on them,” said Beaucage.

First Nations recognize that their tobacco industry is an unregulated industry which can bring with it a measure of mistrust, lack of competition and a perceived abrogation of social responsibilities.

“I want to make it clear that First Nations are also socially responsible and are responsive to the concerns of all Canadians about health issues,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage.

Elements of the Anishinabek Nation proposal will include:

*         Restrictions on Tobacco Advertising and Marketing.  In the spirit of similar provincial and federal regulations, advertising and marketing of First Nations tobacco products would be regulated.  On-reserve highway signs, previously out of the reach of provincial and federal regulations, and advertising targeting “Cheap Smokes” could be prohibited.

*         Licensing of Tobacco Retailers.  Tobacco-only “Smoke Shops” or retailers that sell tobacco as their majority product could be prohibited.  In order to sell First Nations tobacco products, a retailer must sell more than just cigarettes and tobacco products. i.e. groceries, convenience and motor fuels.  The purpose is to limit the number of Smoke Shops and regulate the access to tobacco products on First Nations.

*         First Nations Health Tax.  In cooperation with the federal and provincial government, manufacturers would be licensed to levy a First Nations Health Tax on First Nations tobacco and tobacco products. Tobacco tax revenue would go directly to First Nations government and health programs.  The tax would bring First Nations tobacco products in line with mainstream tobacco pricing, thereby discouraging tobacco consumption.  First Nations would maintain their competitive advantage to benefit their economy, while ensure prices are prohibitive.  First Nations would continue to make purchases tax exempt for their personal use.

In addition, Grand Council Chief Beaucage hopes that a marketing strategy could be developed to bestow the true virtues of tobacco, promote responsible use and affirm health promotions messaging.

“There is a healthy way to use tobacco.  For us, there is a strong difference between tobacco use for traditional purposes and tobacco abuse,” added Grand Council Chief Beaucage.

In 2006, the First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation unanimously passed a resolution calling for the establishment of Smoke-Free First Nations. They are currently working on a health promotions strategy and self-regulation framework that will be introduced in the fall.

The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.

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