07/08/2015 10:02 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick convenience store owners want crackdown on illegal smoke sales

MONCTON, N.B. - An association representing convenience store owners is calling for tougher penalties for people who sell illegal cigarettes, based on research it commissioned in New Brunswick.

The Atlantic Convenience Stores Association hired Montreal research firm NIRIC to collect cigarette ends from 27 sites across the province in late May and early June for analysis.

Of the almost 4,000 cigarette ends that were collected, 24 per cent were illegal, while 26 per cent of those collected at 11 high schools had not been subject to tax.

This is the fourth survey the association has commissioned since 2013 and in all four of them the average presence of illegal cigarettes has remained steady in New Brunswick.

Association president Mike Hammoud says while the trend doesn't appear to be growing, it is consistent and remains a serious problem.

The association says a crackdown on the sale of illegal cigarettes would lead to the government collecting more tax revenue from tobacco sales.

In a statement, New Brunswick Finance Minister Roger Melanson says the contraband tobacco market represents money that is not going to important programs like healthcare and education.

He says police and inspectors from the Department of Public Safety are active in detecting and addressing cases of the illegal sale of contraband tobacco and the smuggling of tobacco and alcohol from other jurisdictions.