RETAILERS are voicing concern about the influx of illegal tobacco and vapes flooding the market and the potential violence it could bring if left unchecked.
Supermarket proprietor Ben Heptinstall said he was concerned that the violence surrounding the illicit sale of cigarettes and vapes would come to Western Australia.
“Speaking to retailers over east – where lucky we’re not in that situation yet, but I could definitely see it coming over.
“In Victoria, half of all tobacco purchases are illicit, and it’s organised crime that are burning down retailer’s premises if they refuse to sell their black market product,” he said.
Mr Heptinstall runs three supermarkets and said the last few years have seen the sale of illicit tobacco and vapes increase, which he believes is linked to the increase in crime around his stores.
“The last two years the illicit trade has really taken off. It’s bringing crime to the area, people have been forced to essentially break the law when they wouldn’t normally – especially now with the cost of living being where it is.
“To save $10 on a packet of cigarettes, if you can go and buy some under the counter products, it’s a big saving for these consumers,” he said.
Mr Heptinstall said the sale of illicit tobacco and vapes is unregulated, which is where the issues with minors obtaining the products stem from, and believes there are three shops selling the illicit goods close to one of his stores.
“One is a store you wouldn’t even consider as selling any tobacco product,” he said.
Australian Taxpayers Alliance president Brian Marlow, who is also the director of Legalise Vaping Australia, said the organisation has launched the ‘bust the black market’ campaigns because of these concerns.
“I have heard from retailers around Australia who see no option but to sell illegal smokes.
“Their customers are looking to buy them, and they fear for their safety if they don’t,” he said.
Mr Marlow said factors like the cost of living crisis has exacerbated the issue of the illegal cigarette and vape market, and believes that businesses are fearing for their safety as criminal groups undercut the legitimate market.
But Mr Marlow believes it’s the federal government’s harsh tobacco excises which are also drawing consumers into the black market.
“Excise is a necessary tobacco deterrent, but the federal government’s over-enthusiasm to increase more taxes while failing to deliver sufficient enforcement of the law will only push people to sell and buy cheap, unregulated tobacco products on the black market,” he said.
Hasluck MHR Tania Lawrence said that the sale of illicit vapes is threatening to undo Australia’s success in tobacco control and the federal government is committed to reducing smoking rates through stronger legislation, education, support and enforcement.
“We are stamping out the growing black market in illegal vapes by implementing proper import controls to ensure the flood of single use vapes is stopped at the border.
“In addition to import controls and the appropriate resourcing of Border Force, we are ending the sale of vapes in convenience stores and other retail settings, while also making it easier to get a prescription for legitimate therapeutic use."
The illicit tobacco enforcement unit reports that as of August 31 there have been 34 illicit tobacco seizures in the 2022-23 reporting period, resulting in six convictions and 10 million illegal cigarettes taken off the streets.