Restrictions on tobacco will hurt retailers while illegal market thrives

Retailers say the Governments announcement yesterday that it is exploring additional restrictions on legal tobacco sales will hurt Australian retailers, given the rise in illicit tobacco sales over the last decade. 

A joint statement from the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), the Master Grocers Australia (MGA) and the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA) said illicit tobacco now accounts for one in five tobacco products consumed in Australia, costing governments almost $4 billion a year in lost taxes, and putting the health and welfare of all Australians at risk. 

Theo Foukkare, Chief Executive of AACS, urges the Government to develop a national strategy targeting the sale of illicit tobacco.

“Organised crime is at the centre of the illegal tobacco trade. These criminal networks deliberately target our most disadvantaged communities because they know they have higher smoking rates and are more price sensitive. 

 “We urge the Government first-and-foremost to develop a national strategy regarding illicit tobacco, bringing all the states together to assist in navigating the patchwork of state and federal laws and responsibility that currently exists. 

 “Every day a community retailer tells me they face going out of business because an illicit store has opened across the road, selling tobacco by the kilo, or loose cigarettes for less than their excise value,” he said. 

Foukkare said that while he understands the good intentions behind the Minister for Health and Aged Care’s plan to ban menthol cigarettes and place leaflets inside cigarette packs to reduce smoking, these measures are voided by a flourishing illegal market. 

“These changes would make some tobacco products exclusive to the illicit market, leaving those consumers with no option but to buy from organised crime, the same black-market operators who peddle illicit drugs in our communities for profit,” said Foukkare.

“We are already seeing the wider consequences of criminal elements investing in the highly profitable illegal tobacco market, exposing consumers to substandard unregulated products and the grave effect this is having in undermining public health efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and prevent minors from accessing cigarettes and nicotine vapes,” he said. 

Foukkare said Australian retailers have repeatedly called on the Government at all levels to address the growing black market for tobacco and vapes. 

“Our position is clear. We urge the Government to consider adopting the recommendations by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement (PJCLE) Inquiry into Illicit Tobacco, as these would greatly assist us to address these problems, and to sit down and engage with the people who are doing the right thing – responsible, tax-paying retailers – and give urgent priority to fixing the black market,” he said. 

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