Revelations that Australian authorities have deprived an organised crime syndicate of an estimated $400 million by targeting illicit tobacco operations highlight the need for strong enforcement and appropriate resourcing for police, the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) said today.

An inter-agency group combining the powers of the Australian Taxation Office, Border Force and Victoria Police has been conducting a major operation this year to disrupt “industrial scale” growing and distribution of illicit tobacco around Australia.

The ATO says that multiple illicit tobacco crops throughout regional Victoria have been seized and destroyed, and that the enforcement actions have disrupted cash flows to the criminal syndicate to the tune of $400 million.

“The scale of this operation is staggering, and it should focus minds on the scale of the challenge we face from illicit tobacco,” said AACS chief executive Theo Foukkare.

“We know that illicit tobacco is easily available in too many places across Australia. In Victoria alone there are some 400 stores selling illicit products.

“These same stores are also selling illicit vapes, another huge problem on our streets. While we very much support the calls for a proper licensing scheme for Victorian tobacco retailers, it is clear that police, not just health authorities, need to be heavily involved – they need the right powers and the right resources.
“These illicit operations deprive legitimate, honest small retailers of their livelihoods, while communities also suffer as they are deprived of services through the lost tax revenue.

“The ATO, Victoria Police and the other enforcement agencies are to be congratulated for their work on this. But it is clear that the lack of retail enforcement has created an environment where the black market can thrive.

In April 2022 the Commissioner for Better Regulation completed a review of Victoria’s approach to illicit tobacco regulation – to which AACS submitted that there is an urgent need for police interven-tion in the illicit tobacco trade. AACS calls on the Victorian Government to urgently respond to the findings of the review and implement a law enforcement led strategy to butt out the black market.

Theo Foukkare is available for interview: 0423 003 133

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