Learn about illegal tobacco, why it’s a problem and what you can do to help stop it in Ontario.
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How illegal tobacco causes harm
Illegal tobacco undermines public health and safety by:
- supporting organized crime
- giving people — especially young people — easier access to cigarettes
- taking millions of tax dollars away from public services, like education and health care
- creating a fire hazard — because some illegal cigarettes lack self-extinguishing features
- hurting local businesses that follow the law
Consequences of having illegal tobacco
If you're convicted of possessing illegal tobacco, you may be fined three times the tax on the value of the illegal cigarettes you possess, plus:
- $100 if you have 200 unmarked cigarettes or fewer
- $250 if you have from 201 to 1,000 unmarked cigarettes
- $500 if you have from 1,001 to 10,000 unmarked cigarettes
- $500 to $10,000 if you have more than 10,000 unmarked cigarettes, and your car may be impounded
In addition, you may be sentenced to up to two years in jail if it's not your first conviction for possessing illegal cigarettes, or if you have more than 10,000 illegal cigarettes.
If convicted, you will also have your name publicly released on the Ontario Newsroom and you may face additional civil penalties.
Government in action
- $2.8 million
- 7 million
Working with partners
The government is working with law enforcement partners to reduce the size of the illegal tobacco market. These partnerships include:
- the Cornwall Regional Task Force, a partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Canada Border Services Agency, and the Ontario Ministry of Finance
- the Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Team, a partnership with the Ontario Provincial Police's Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau that works to dismantle illegal tobacco networks across Ontario
- the Tobacco Enforcement Grants Pilot Program, which provides incentives for local law enforcement to undertake investigations into illegal tobacco
The government is also committed to working with First Nation partners to reduce the size of the illegal tobacco market.
How to identify legal tobacco
Legal tobacco products are labelled with a stamp.
Single cigarette packs — which usually contain 20 to 25 cigarettes — must be labelled with the yellow "ON Duty Paid Canada" stamp. You're breaking the law if you have cigarette packs without this stamp, unless you are exempt from paying tobacco tax.
The stamp proves that federal and provincial taxes have been paid. It has security features similar to Canadian currency that help you verify that it's authentic.
A carton — which holds eight or 10 packs of cigarettes — must be labelled with the rectangular "Ontario" stamp. Each pack within the carton must have the "ON Duty Paid Canada" stamp.
Sometimes called loose or rolling tobacco, fine-cut tobacco must be marked with the yellow "ON Duty Paid Canada" stamp.
If you're buying cigarettes, make sure the pack has the yellow "ON Duty Paid Canada" stamp (unless you are exempt from paying tobacco tax).
Tobacco tax exemptions
Two types of consumers are exempt from paying tobacco taxes:
- First Nation individuals with a status card may buy tax-exempt tobacco on reserve for their own personal use.
- Diplomats buying tobacco in Ontario. If you are a diplomat and have questions about this process, call the Ministry of Finance at
For people exempt from paying Ontario tobacco taxes, cigarette packs must be labelled with the peach-coloured "CAN Duty Paid Canada" stamp:
Help to quit smoking
Each year, tobacco claims 16,000 lives in Ontario — that equals 43 lives every day.
Smoking cigarettes and using tobacco costs Canada's health care system approximately $2.2 billion in direct costs (Source: Costs of Tobacco Use in Canada, 2012 by the Conference Board of Canada).