Home Opinion Quality Contraband Tobacco Makes Its First Market Entry

Quality Contraband Tobacco Makes Its First Market Entry

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Are Rolled Gold cigarettes

It’s been a long, very long time since we expected to see Kahnawake’s first brand of high quality contraband cigarettes.

Well now, it’s done and well done! The wait is over because we have just found it.

Rolling drums … ladies and gentlemen, here is the Rolled Gold Full Flavor!… the first brand of contraband of the same quality as the legal ones, but naturally five times less expensive since the consumer avoids paying taxes on tobacco (which represents in average 75% of the legal product price).

These “rolled cigarettes of gold”, as suggested by the brand imagery, have apparently appeared on the market about two years ago in Kahnawake. These are the first high quality contraband cigarettes that we believe can compete with legal tobacco.

Visual inspection: Check!

A few days ago, we stumbled upon a contraband tobacco smoker who proudly showed us – and gave us a sample – of this brand of contraband tobacco, swearing that they are as good as legal cigarettes, but for a fraction of the price. Indeed, they are sold as low as $ 19 a carton (instead of $ 80-100 for legal tobacco), and even $ 17 if bought in larger quantities of 10 to 15 cartons at a time.

These cigarettes offered in King Size format are sold in “flip-top” packs of 20 cigarettes each which are the most popular on the U.S. market (eg Marlboro). Thus, a 200 cigarettes carton includes 10 packs of 20 cigarettes each and not 8 packs of 25 each as is normally the case for Canadian cigarettes.

At first sight, this product greatly intrigued us:

  • The package’s graphic design seems very well done for Native cigarettes: the chosen colors (red wine, black and gold) go well together and project a sense of luxury and quality.
  • The product logo is nicely designed, the name correct and its letters are embossed on the package, something we rarely see with Native tobacco products.
  • The package includes several notable mentions: “No Additives”, “100% Natural Tobacco”, “100% Canadian Blend”, “Underage Sales Prohibited”, “Class A” “Full Flavor” (a statement you see everywhere on contraband tobacco packs but its meaning is still unknown).
  • Interestingly, the mentions are bilingual while the health warning is American. Normally, the American warning means that the product is destined for the American market, but in such a case the mentions of the pack would only be in English. It is likely that the manufacturer wanted to put on a health warning and chose the American version simply because it is simpler and smaller.

Finally, the manufacturer is mentioned: Thompson Tobacco, Kahnawake. Thompson is a common name on the reserve, including a vodka distillery. It is possible that the two are related, but we have no evidence to this effect. For sure, the manufacturer is not concerned at all to be identified knowing that the chances of police raids on the reserve are non existent.

A comparison of the product with the regular contraband tobacco sold on reserve confirmed that it is a superior product.

A new era for contraband tobacco?

After soaring in the 2000s to a peak of 40% of the market in 2008, contraband tobacco has steadily declined since then to stabilize at about 15% of the market.

One of the key factors behind this decline – in addition to higher fines and increased police repression – is the low quality of so-called Indian cigarettes compared to legal products.

Many of the smokers we’ve talked to over the years have confessed to being unable to smoke “feather cigarettes” as they are called around here. They’d rather pay the high price of $ 80-100 a carton of 200 cigarettes a week rather than smoke “hay” that makes them cough and leaves a smell 100 feet around. If it’s no good, it’s no good!

We have always anticipated, therefore, that it is only a matter of time before contraband manufacturers operating on Native reserves would, through effort, patience and investment, produce a quality product as good as legal cigarettes made by large multinationals and thus regain some of the lost market shares.

It is indeed logical that they do so: they have the money, the authorities leave them alone and at the price they sell tobacco, a quality product could become quickly popular.

Year after year, however, we had never encountered such high quality products before. Cigarettes in $ 10 ziploc bag are still the worst: too dry, poorly compacted, smelly with unfinished tobacco. Then come the cigarettes packaged in brands such as “Canadian Original” or “PlayFares” which, according to smokers, are barely better, even if their packaging is similar to legal cigarettes.

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