National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco

This page was last edited on at

The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) was founded in 2008 and describes itself as “a Canadian advocacy group formed with the participation of businesses, law and order organizations and individuals concerned about the growing danger of contraband cigarettes.”1 Its stated mission is to “to educate people and urge government to take quick action to stop this growing threat.”1

Background

In 2008 and 2010, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (owned by Philip Morris International, PMI); Imperial Tobacco Canada (British American Tobacco, BAT) and JTI-Macdonald Corp (Japan Tobacco International, JTI) agreed to pay a total of C$1.7 billion in fines to the Governments of Canada and Quebec for their alleged role in cigarette smuggling.23 Transnational tobacco companies have always attempted to reframe the issue of illicit tobacco and rebrand themselves from “pariah” to “victim and solution” of the illicit tobacco trade.4

A leaked internal document produced in 2012 by Imperial Tobacco Canada showed that NCACT was a key pillar of the company’s strategy to “raise public awareness” on the illicit tobacco trade and “use opportunity to engage government”, including “freezing taxes” and combating other forms of regulation.5

Since appointing Rick Barnum as Executive Director in March 2022, NCACT has intensified its media efforts and engagement with government and law enforcement across Canada, including supporting a bill regarding the tobacco tax act, often without disclosing its relationship to the tobacco industry.67

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Funding

A “significant portion” of NCACT’s funding comes from the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council (CTMC), the members of which are the three major tobacco companies in Canada: Rothmans, Benson & Hedges; Imperial Tobacco Canada; and JTI-Macdonald Corp.1 Contribution amounts have not been disclosed.

In 2015, in a media interview, the then NCACT spokesperson implied he was not sure who exactly paid his salary:

“For me, it’s very simple, I get paid by the act. They ask me to do an interview with you or a radio host, or go on TV to talk about smuggling, and I’m glad to do it. Who invests how much, I don’t see it as an issue for me to know that with any certainty.”8

Leaked Imperial Tobacco Canada document

In 2016, a PowerPoint presentation by Imperial Tobacco Canada, dated August 2012, was leaked to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, and the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.9 The document revealed the company’s strategy to “keep the tobacco contraband issue alive” and fight against additional tobacco control regulation and taxation, notably through NCACT.5 The group is described in the document as “The credible voice for contraband tobacco” and “The contraband watchdog”.5 Tactics listed included NCACT’s “Ensuring Contraband is Front and Center in the Media”, focusing on the message of “Cash, Crime, Children, Convenience, Community”, and “Mobilizing Local Pressure” at the municipal and provincial levels.5

Figure 1: Image of slide from the leaked 2012 Imperial Tobacco Canada presentation. Source: Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.5

Figure 2: Image of slide from the leaked 2012 Imperial Tobacco Canada presentation. Source: Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.5

Figure 3: Image of slide from the leaked 2012 Imperial Tobacco Canada presentation. Source: Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.5

Activities

Over the years, NCACT’s activities have included putting up billboards, producing documentaries, contributing to the media, engaging on social media, delivering public speeches, and holding private and public meetings with federal and local officials.5 Much of its messaging has focused on warning that public health regulations (including plain packaging and tax increases) have led to an increase in the illicit tobacco trade which authorities have ignored.1011 In June 2023, NCACT published a press release stating that the new government requirement for health warnings on individual cigarettes was “pushing smokers to the illegal market”.12

Figure 4: Imperial Tobacco Canada’s internal description of NCACT’s “tactics and techniques”. Source: Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.5

Meeting with officials

As of June 2024, there had been over 100 entries in the Canadian lobbying register related to meetings between NCACT and government institutions such as the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as others such as Finance Canada, Justice Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.13 In most of these meetings NCACT was represented by the lobbying firm Impact Public Affairs.13 Topics covered included “Health”, “Justice and Law Enforcement” and “Taxation and Finance”, among others.13

As the leaked Imperial Tobacco document points out, “mobilizing local pressure” has been particularly important.5 Since joining NCACT in March 2022, Executive Director Rick Barnum has met with legislators and officials across the country.141516 NCACT has been particularly active in Ontario, where it has hosted events at the Ontario Legislative Assembly, including a “Stop Organized Crime Night” reception.17

As part of the local strategy articulated by Imperial Tobacco Canada, retailers have been at the forefront of industry messaging on illicit tobacco in Canada.5 In June 2022, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) became a member of NCACT. The Canadian subsidiaries of BAT, PMI, and JTI are all members of CICC.1819 In 2022 Barnum told journalists that stores “count on legitimate tobacco sales to keep their doors open”.20

Co-presenting a bill in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

In May 2023, NCACT co-presented the Better Enforcement of the Tobacco Tax Act (Bill 106), alongside New Democratic Party (NDP) MPP France Gélinas.21 The bill aims to amend the Tobacco Tax Act in Ontario to expand enforcement authority and authorise all police officers to undertake certain enforcement actions, including detainment of vehicles and seizure of tobacco products.622 The NDP press release made no mention of the NCACT’s tobacco industry funding.6

Article 5.3. of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which Canada ratified in 2004, specifically aims to guard against this type of tobacco industry interference, including through front groups. It urges Parties to “act to protect [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.23 The implementation guidelines for Article 5.3 urge parties to “interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products”.24

Media

An independent study on “The framing of the causes and policy responses to the illicit tobacco trade in Canadian newspapers” found that frame sponsors (defined as those who propagate particular understandings or ideas about an issue) with tobacco industry links, and which articulate arguments favourable to the industry, were quoted in 70% of the newspaper articles reviewed. These included NCACT. “As connections to the tobacco industry are rarely mentioned”, the authors wrote, “these sources are presented as independent experts. Tobacco companies, in turn, then cite these sources, fomenting the impression of consensus.”25

NCACT has often intervened in the media, even producing its own documentary on the illicit tobacco trade, entitled Lawlessness. The film suggests the issue is caused primarily by high taxes; it does not discuss the complicity of transnational tobacco companies in the illicit tobacco trade worldwide.26

Relevant Links

Tobacco Tactics Resources

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to TCRG publications.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

References

  1. abcNational Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, About Us, accessed June 2023
  2. A. Dowd, UPDATE 3-Firms settle Canadian cigarette smuggling case, Reuters, 13 April 2010, accessed June 2023
  3. R. Schwartz, Canada: Controlling illicit tobacco trade, in: Confronting Illicit Tobacco Trade: A Global Review of Country Experiences, Chapter 3:51-71, World Bank, January 2019, accessed June 2023
  4. A.B. Gilmore, G. Fooks, J. Drope et al, Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low and middle income countries, The Lancet, 2014; 385(9972):1029-1043, doi:10.1016%2FS0140-6736(15)60312-9
  5. abcdefghijkImperial Tobacco Canada, CORA AIT Strategy: Raising Public Awareness & Demanding Government Action, presentation slides, August 2012, accessed June 2023. Available from Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control, cqct.qc.ca
  6. abcOntario New Democratic Party, MPP Gélinas introduces bill to keep tobacco away from kids, press release, 11 May 2023, accessed June 2023
  7. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Our Executive Director @RickBarnumNCACT was at Queen’s Park this morning alongside MPP France Gélinas @NickelBelt to present legislation that would allow all police officers in the province to enforce the Tobacco Tax Act. We call on all MPPs to support this legislation. #onpoli’, Tweet, 11 May 2023, accessed 6 June 2023
  8. I. Hachey, Is Quebec’s Convenience Store Association Funded By Tobacco Companies?, La Presse, 5 November 2015, accessed June 2023 [Translated by the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control]
  9. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control, Leaked Document from Imperial Tobacco Shows How the CCSA and its Affiliate Were Used as Front Groups to Block Health Regulations and Tobacco Taxes, news release, Cision Canada, 18 October 2016, accessed June 2023
  10. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, 2019 Pre-Budget Recommendations, accessed 13 June 2023
  11. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, Ontario Budget’s Tobacco Tax Increase Will Lead to More Illegal Cigarettes, news release, Cision Canada, 1 May 2014, accessed 13 June 2023
  12. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, Health Canada Pushing Smokers to the Illegal Market, news release, Cision Canada, 7 June 2023. Accessed 13 June 2023
  13. abcOffice of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, Registry of Lobbyists, Advanced Registry Search Results, 2024, accessed June 2024
  14. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Thank you to the Solicitor General of Ontario @MPPKerzner for meeting with our Executive Director @RickBarnumNCACT yesterday to discuss ways to address organized crime in the province. #onpoli’, Tweet, 7 June 2023, accessed 13 June 2023
  15. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Thank you to MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Attorney General @douglasdowney, @BrianSaunderson for meeting with NCACT Executive Director @RickBarnumNCACT yesterday to discuss the impacts of #contraband #tobacco on communities across Ontario. #onpoli’, Tweet, 30 November 2022, accessed 13 June 2023
  16. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Thank you to MLA @SusieChant_nvs for meeting with our Executive Director @RickBarnumNCACT this morning to discuss the growing #contraband #tobacco issue in BC. #bcpoli’, Tweet, 17 June 2022, accessed 13 June 2023
  17. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Thank you to all the Ministers, MPPs and staff who attended our Stop Organized Crime Night at Queen’s Park earlier this week. We look forward to working with you all in the months ahead to take action against criminal gangs and #contraband #tobacco. #onpoli, Tweet, 8 December 2022, accessed June 2023
  18. Convenience Industry Council of Canada, Members, accessed June 2023
  19. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘We are excited to be welcoming a long-time partner as an official member of the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco. @ConvenienceCan members, many of whom are small businesses, are directly impacted by criminal gangs involved in #contraband #tobacco, Tweet, 1 June 2022, accessed June 2023
  20. J.P. Antonacci, Coalition seeks action on illegal tobacco trade, Simcoe Reformer, 1 June 2022, accessed June 2023
  21. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, ‘Our Executive Director @RickBarnumNCACT was at Queen’s Park this morning alongside MPP France Gélinas @NickelBelt to present legislation that would allow all police officers in the province to enforce the Tobacco Tax Act. We call on all MPPs to support this legislation. #onpoli’, Tweet, 11 May 2023, accessed 6 June 2023
  22. F. Gélinas, Bill 106, Better Enforcement of the Tobacco Tax Act, 2023, Legislative Assembly of Ontario, accessed June 2023
  23. World Health Organization, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2003
  24. World Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, 2013
  25. J. Smith, S. Thompson, K. Lee, Death and Taxes: The framing of the causes and policy responses to the illicit tobacco trade in Canadian newspapers, Cogent Social Sciences, 2017, 3(1), doi:10.1080/23311886.2017.1325054
  26. National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco, Lawlessness: A documentary exploring the organized crime links to contraband tobacco, NCACT website, accessed June 2023