The Australiasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has warned the Tasmanian Parliament that raising the age of legal tobacco purchase will fuel the illegal cigarette trade in Australia.
The Tasmanian Parliament is currently preparing to debate a Bill proposing to raise the age from which adults can purchase legal tobacco to 21.
According to AACS CEO Jeff Rogut said raising the legal age from which adults can purchase tobacco products will cost jobs in the convenience industry and drive more Tasmanians to search for alternatives on the black market.
“Australia has experienced a huge spike in the illicit tobacco trade, fuelled by the regulatory environment of regular and excessive excise increases on legal tobacco, and spiralling since the introduction of plain packaging,” Mr Rogut said.
“Should the proposed Bill become law in Tasmania, a position which would be at odds with the rest of the nation, it would represent another free kick to the criminal gangs supplying the black market.
“It’s already illegal for people under 18 to purchase tobacco. Black market criminals have proven exceptionally capable of supplying illegal tobacco to minors, with the average age people start smoking being 16 years.
“The proposed Bill cannot affect this. Instead, black market sources will simply have a wider customer base to service. Criminals will profit while small businesses will miss out on lost, legitimate, legal sales.
“Social factors such as income, employment and education are the major contributors to smoking. The Bill does not address these areas.
“With no evidence to suggest that raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 will do anything to reduce smoking, and with history proving prohibition policies negatively impact law-abiding small businesses like convenience stores, the AACS will join other retail and business authorities in Tasmania and nationally in opposing the Bill,” he said.
According to KPMG LLP, the proportion of illicit tobacco as a proportion of the total tobacco market in Australia is over 14%, costing the economy more than $2 billion a year.
The AACS acknowledges that legal tobacco, responsibly sold with existing age restrictions in place, is an important product for convenience stores representing, on a national average basis, 39.5% of a typical store’s sales.
“We believe adults have the right to choose to consume legal products and that a focus on education, as part of a range of coordinated initiatives including the regulated legal sale of ecigarettes, would be the most effective way to reduce the incidence of smoking,” Mr Rogut said.
“We are concerned about the economic consequences of the proposed Bill, both for our members and for Tasmanian businesses more broadly, as well as the freedom of choice implications for adult consumers.”