Industry welcomes Queensland’s illicit tobacco crackdown

Leaders of national retail groups have welcomed the Queensland Government’s proposed crackdown on illicit tobacco and illegal vape products.

Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retail Association (NRA), said the illicit products were estimated to make up 20 per cent of all cigarette sales, costing taxpayers roughly $3.4 billion each year in lost revenue.

“Law-abiding retailers who do the right thing are currently fighting with one hand tied behind their back against those who operate on the black market.

“These sales are not only out of the reach of Australian tax laws, but they also circumvent the very strong product labelling, health warning and minimum age laws designed to deter the take-up of smoking, especially among children.”

The Qld Government has proposed a licensing scheme for all smoking products, including e-cigarettes and vapes, and are inviting Queenslanders to provide feedback on the proposed reforms.

In a joint statement from the leaders of Australian Assocation of Convenience Stores (AACS), the Master Grocers Association (MGA), and the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA), said it’s appropriate the Health Minister is leading the review but they are keen to see vital enforcement strategies take a multi-agency approach, including Qld police.

“It’s critical that new licensing rules are backed up by appropriate resources for police and other enforcement agencies. Announcing a plan to introduce licensing is one thing but enforcing it to address these broader issues requires a comprehensive response.

“Illicit tobacco sales have been growing rapidly in Queensland, and there have been multiple reports of brazen flouting of the existing laws by non-compliant retailers,” the associations said in the joint statement issued by AACS chief executive Theo Foukkare, MGA chief executive Jos de Bruin, and ALNA chief executive Ben Kearney.

Yvette D’Ath, Minister for Health and Ambulance Services in Qld, said smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Qld, which is why the government is taking steps strengthen its anti-smoking efforts.

“We want to hear from Queenslanders, including small businesses, and we’ll advance our package of reforms based on the feedback to our Regulatory Impact Statement for introduction into the Queensland Parliament.”

D’ath said the Government would like to see relevant authorities given additional enforcement powers to target the illegal tobacco industry.

“Right now, we know that there are challenges when it comes to coordinating a response to illegal operations across multiple agencies including State and Commonwealth bodies.

“That’s why we’re taking this important step to ensure that illicit operators know that there’s nowhere to hide, and they’ll be caught if they do the wrong thing.”

Lamb welcomed the introduction of the proposed licensing scheme as it would create a clear difference between legitimate retailers and those operating on the black market, however she warned it should not add additional costs and bureaucracy to small businesses.

“We know from experience that legitimate retailers do the right thing and abide by laws regarding product labelling and sales to minors.

“The penalties are severe, and retailers respect those laws. We would like to see much stronger enforcement activity directed at those black-market operators who do not respect those laws.

“So we support a licensing scheme, and call for enforcement action to be targeted primarily at those who operate outside the scheme.”

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