The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has seized a haul of illicit tobacco in Queensland with an estimated street value of $5.16m, but retail associations say that more enforcement is needed.

Supported by Queensland police, the ATO uncovered around 291,000 cigarettes and 3,026kg of loose-leaf tobacco in an operation spanning three properties in Logan, Queensland.

The seizure has been welcomed by retail industry leaders, but they say that this is “just the tip of the iceberg and more police enforcement is needed”.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), Master Grocers Australia (MGA), and the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA) highlighted the extent of the illicit tobacco problem and its impact on communities.

“We need ongoing action from state and federal governments to continue to tear apart these illegal operations. In 2019 Australians lost out on over $3 billion in lost revenue from tobacco excise, and retailers lost profits from sales – profits which can help create jobs. This all adds up to the public being denied services they rely on and people having their businesses fail, all because of the ongoing problems with counterfeit operations run by criminal syndicates.

The retail associations highlight that this is not a victimless trade and estimate the number of stores selling illegal tobacco products in Queensland has doubled in the past six months.

They say that while originally concentrated around Brisbane and the Gold Coast, illegal shops are now surging north to towns including Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, and Townsville.

“This problem is too big to be policed by health authorities. It is a matter of serious and highly organised criminal groups – and that means tackling it with the resources of the police across the country,” the statement said.

“Around one in five cigarettes consumed in Australia in 2019 was illicit tobacco. A black market this size in any other product would not be tolerated and it is high time authorities rose to the challenge.”

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