24 HOURS EXCLUSIVE
By BILL TIELEMAN
The federal government has quietly told Canada Border Services Agency officers to allow children to import tobacco products into Canada from foreign countries, an internal document obtained by 24 hours shows.
Anti-smoking advocates and the border officers' union are shocked.
"According to a legal opinion recently obtained by Headquarters, federal and provincial laws on tobacco have no provisions to prevent the importation of tobacco products," reads a CBSA memorandum circulated in late 2007.
"Border Services Officers should therefore no longer seize or hold tobacco products imported by minors for the sole reason that they are minors," the memo concludes.
The directive means children of any age can import tobacco products into Canada, including taking advantage of duty-free exemptions of 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200 tobacco sticks and 200 grams of manufactured tobacco if they have been outside the country for longer than 48 hours.
The undated memo, signed by Raymond Bedard, the Canada Border Services Agency's Director, Partnerships Division, Admissibility Branch, states that as of May 3, 2007 age requirements on tobacco importation have been deleted.
It adds that the "I Declare" pamphlet given to tourists and Canadian residents returning to Canada "no longer mentions a minimum age for the importation of tobacco products."
The union representing Border Services officers is appalled.
"Ethically and morally, it's wrong," said George Scott, a national vice-president of the Customs Excise Union. "All our officers want to do the right thing. Children shouldn't be smoking."
And Scott McDonald, Executive Director of the B.C. Lung Association called the change "bizarre" and called for immediate federal action.
"It would be irresponsible of the government not to close that loophole," McDonald told 24 hours Thursday. "It would not be very responsible to allow minors to import tobacco products."
McDonald said tobacco products cannot be legally sold to anyone under the age of 19 in British Columbia, while some other provinces have an age restriction of 18.
An Ottawa spokesperson for CBSA was contacted and sent a copy of the memo but did not respond to an interview request by deadline.
Scott said his main concern is that parents travelling with children will use them to increase their tobacco imports.
"Parents who smoke can use their children," he said.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION NOT PUBLISHED BY 24 HOURS
The CBSA memo says that alcohol age restrictions remain in force. It also says that "the E311 declaration card" that travellers returning to Canada receive will be "update shortly."
Scott said he believes that the memo "took effect a long time ago but a lot of managers don't even know about it."
"It's not like they [CBSA] made a big deal about it," he said.
McDonald of the Lung Association, which is also a member of the anti-smoking Clean Air Coalition of BC, said he expects the public to be outraged at the idea of minor importing tobacco.
"The public would not support that," he said. "Surely if its a loophole in the legislation that can be dealt with. Revise whatever wording is necessary."
Despite contacting first the BC office of the CBSA and later its Ottawa office and talking to representatives about the details of the memo, no response was received March 6.
Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, the minister responsible for the CBSA, is Conservative Member of Parliament for Okanagan – Coquihalla