Warnings that 300,000 illegal cigarettes and 3000kgs of loose-leaf tobacco are just the tip of the iceberg and more police enforcement is needed.

Illegal trade is growing rapidly in regional Queensland

The discovery of a giant cache of illicit tobacco seized in a joint operation of the Australian Taxation Office and Queensland Police shows the importance of ensuring authorities have the resources to enforce the law on black market tobacco, the leaders of three national retail representative groups representing thousands of businesses across the country said today.

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) welcomed news of the raid and said it highlighted the extent of the illicit tobacco problem and its impact on communities.

The ATO announced today it had seized nearly 300,000 illicit cigarettes as well as 3,000kg of loose-leaf tobacco in an operation spanning three properties in Logan, Queensland, last week. The value of the foregone excise revenue to the government was over $5 million, according to the ATO.

“This shows how damaging illicit tobacco is in the community, and unfortunately we expect this is the tip of the iceberg,” 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.

“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.

“As the ATO pointed out today, this is not a victimless trade.”

The retail associations estimate the number of stores selling illegal tobacco products in Queensland has doubled in the past six months, since this was first brought to the attention of government.

While originally concentrated around Brisbane and the Gold Coast, illegal shops are now surging north to towns including Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, and Townsville at an alarming rate the retailers said.

“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 organisations 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.”

Theo Foukkare (AACS) is available for interview: 0423 003 133
Jos De Bruin (MGA) is available for interview: 0418 312 723
Ben Kearney (ALNA) is available for interview: 0417 144 994

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