By Annabel Sweetnam-Groom
A recent record-breaking haul of illegally imported tobacco tipping the scales at 71-tonnes, worth $400 million, has shed light on a major black industry created by Government taxes, say smoking rights activists.
The Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg APM, said this week the illegal tobacco trade by organised crime syndicates is a main priority for Border Control.
He said while this is a lesser known function of Border Control, stemming the trade is crucial as, in the last three months, they have seized over 100-tonnes of illicit tobacco, known as chop-chop, at Australian seaports, as smugglers try to evade millions of dollars in tax.
Clinton Mead, spokesperson for and creator of the Australian Smokers’ Rights Party, says there is no doubt that the high prices, caused by government taxes on tobacco products are fuelling the fire in the illegal tobacco trade.
While not a smoker, Mr Mead compares tobacco policies to the Prohibition movement in America.
“It was a complete and utter failure.”
“To deny that there’s not organised crime in illegal tobacco is just crazy.”
“If you tax something so that it’s unaffordable, you’re going to create a black market.”
The Australian Smokers’ Rights Party believes that these high taxes are ultimately funding organised crime, producing unregulated tobacco and increasing the dangers for smokers.
Professor Steve Allsop, Director of the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University agrees that because of the high price of cigarettes people are seeking ways of avoiding paying the high prices.
“That taxation raises revenue but also has implication for availability through price mechanisms.”
Professor Allsop thinks that Australia must find ways of making importation of illegal tobacco less lucrative.
“If you can avoid paying tax you can obviously enhance your profits and so unfortunately there is an incentive there to try and avoid paying tax.”
“When there’s a large gap between the prices there is an incentive.”
“For some people there is an incentive to import and sell black market cigarettes.”