The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has labelled the Australian government “hypocritical” when it comes to its governance of the sale of legal tobacco.
AACS CEO Jeff Rogut says the government must take more responsibility for cracking down on tobacco criminals at street level, and actually do something to earn the billions of tax revenue it collects.
“We recently received correspondence from the Health Minister’s office summarily dismissing independent research from KPMG that highlights the prevalence of illicit tobacco in the community. And yet, on the ground in communities across Australia, retailers are acutely aware of just how large the black market is and how easy illegal tobacco is to buy,” Mr Rogut said.
“It is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. Customers know that illegal, cheaper, non-compliant and sometimes branded tobacco products are everywhere. They are directly asking our store owners if they sell it.
“Government must face up to its responsibility on this issue because at the moment, no-one is taking responsibility at all.”
What can be done?
The AACS has called for an immediate moratorium on excise increases on legal tobacco.
“Every time the government raises the excise on legal tobacco, the illicit market becomes even more appealing to consumers,” Mr Rogut said. “The health risks of this are enormous, as the illicit market is comprised of non-compliant products of unknown materials sold to anyone including minors.
“But the community risks are also huge. The high price of legal tobacco makes it the most sought-after item armed thieves steal from convenience stores. The impact this has on people who work in our stores is extremely distressing and the effects last long after the crime has taken place.
“Meanwhile the government sits back, refusing to acknowledge the extent of the illicit tobacco trade, unwilling to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes to help people transition to a safer product or quit altogether, and instead simply watches the money flow in without feeling any need to minimise the impacts.
“This inertia is disgraceful. It’s supposed to be a hallmark of a coalition government: Australians who work hard should be rewarded for their efforts through greater opportunities. Yet the government itself collects billions from legal tobacco and doesn’t lift a finger to help the victims of tobacco crime.”
“It’s hypocritical. And convenience store owners and workers are left to pick up the financial, emotional and even physical pieces.”
E-cigarettes a ‘safer option’
Mr Rogut has called on the government to regulate the legal sale of e-cigarettes as a safer option to traditional tobacco and to provide people looking to quit more alternatives to help.
“It’s completely obvious to anyone walking down the street. E-cigarettes are being used by more and more people, young and old, who are getting these products through online orders from other countries, or through the growing black market,” he said.
“It beggars belief that our government considers its current framework to be appropriate. The longer it sits on its hands, the more criminals will the gap in the legal market, the more minors will get their hands on these products, the more we’ll slip behind progressive nations like New Zealand, and the more Australians will be denied a safer alternative that could improve their health.”