The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has welcomed a move the by Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers to boost funding aimed at targeting Australia’s multi-billion dollar illicit tobacco black market – however it warns there is still a long way to go when it comes to tackling the out-of-control problem gripping Australia.

AACS Theo Foukkare said the $188.5 million program – announced today – is a crucial step toward fighting what he describes as “one of the biggest public health, community safety and economic threats to this nation” in recent decades.

“After years of advocacy by AACS, we are finally seeing the Federal Government invest a solid amount of money to help protect all Australians from the sinister illicit tobacco black market, including our retailers – who have been desperately calling for proper action,” Mr Foukkare said.

According to media reports, the Federal Government will target black market tobacco dealers in a program lead by Australian Border Force (ABF) that will it partner with state and territory government authorities to stop black market cigarettes and tobacco from entering the country and local communities.

“It’s a big step forward and we commend Mr Chalmers on it. However, we do know this is only the beginning of a long fight,” Mr Foukkare said.

“Years of governments and authorities turning a blind eye to the illicit trade black market have allowed it to boom and that’s resulted in deadly turf wars between rival crime gangs that are desperate to pocket the lions share of massive tax-free profits.

“Dozens and dozens of shops have been firebombed in recent years – putting the safety of innocent members of the public at huge risk.

“It’s a big problem that we have been calling for big action on for a very long time.

“This coordinated program announced by Mr Chalmers is to be applauded and AACS will continue to work with authorities to help make it a success, however the issue is far from fixed.

“We are still waiting for the Federal Government to appoint an Illicit Tobacco and E-Cigarette Commissioner, which, if combined with this desperately needed funding, will lay the foundation to start addressing this out-of-control and incredibly dangerous problem.

“Aside from the urgency on public health and community safety, we also need this to work from an economic point too.

“Taxpayers are being robbed of at least $3 billion a year – huge public money that could be going into our public health system and other vital areas,” Mr Foukkare said.

“AACS has pleaded with the Federal Government to urgently address this issue for years and we are glad that finally our message seems to be getting through.

“This will be a long, hard fight that requires high level strategy to execute. Like all Australians, we will be watching closely to make sure it achieves results to make our communities healthier and safer and the economy stronger.”

Theo Foukkare is available for interview on 0423 003 133

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