Friday, 19 August 2022

Australian black market for tobacco goes off the scale

9.5 million cigarettes seized in Freemantle, Western Australia


A pack of cigarettes costs the equivalent of twenty pounds in Australia these days. It is the most expensive place to smoke in the world. How do smokers afford it? 

Well, they don't...
States join fight against blackmarket cigarettes as border seizures jump 86%

Last financial year, the Australian Border Force detected more than 150,000 illegal shipments of tobacco, including more than 1.1 billion illegal cigarettes – an 86 per cent increase on the year before – and 897 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco (an 8 per cent increase).

It's been a while since I last checked up on Australia's booming black market, but bloody hell! 1.1 billion cigarettes and 897 tonnes of rolling tobacco! That's only what the authorities managed to seize. It's fair to assume that the vast majority of illicit tobacco makes it to market. 
This is an entirely self-inflicted wound, but Danny Pearson, the Minister for Better Regulation, has no plans to fix it with, er, better regulation. 

“Illicit tobacco works against collective efforts to reduce smoking and tobacco-related harm because it undermines tobacco control measures such as tobacco price increases and plain packaging,” Pearson told the inquiry last year.

This looks at the issue from the wrong end of the telescope. The reality is that "tobacco control measures such as tobacco price increases and plain packaging" fuel the black market. Anyone with any sense predicted this would happen.

“Illicit tobacco also targets the most disadvantaged communities, which already have higher smoking rates, because it is sold significantly more cheaply than regulated tobacco.”

No. People on low incomes actively seek out illicit tobacco because the government has made it practically impossible for them to buy cigarettes legally.

The government made a political choice to hand over a large part of the tobacco industry to black market operators. Sure, they were lied to by self-appointed experts who claimed that there is no connection between tobacco taxes and illicit sales - people like Britain's very own Deborah Arnott, for example:
"Once again it is clear that there is no reason to believe tobacco industry propaganda about the relationship between illicit trade, tobacco taxes, plain packaging or other tobacco control measures."
But any politician with a brain must have known that this could not be true. The government broke it, now they own it.

While health groups are lobbying the Albanese government to do more to reduce the smoking rate and respond to the dangers of vaping, Labor has no plan to include another excise increase.

Leave aside the made stuff about "the dangers of vaping" and perhaps the Aussies are finally coming to their senses.

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