Black mar­ket to­bacco is a threat we can­not dis­miss

Herald Sun - - OPINION - FIONA PAT­TEN

THE dis­cov­ery of a $12 mil­lion crop of il­le­gal to­bacco in bush­land south of Can­berra has law en­force­ment wor­ried. And so it should. Any­one who knows any­thing about black mar­kets knows that where there’s smoke, there’s gen­er­ally a rag­ing bush­fire not far away. KPMG’s Il­licit To­bacco in Aus­tralia 2016 report showed that we are now los­ing $1.61 bil­lion in taxes through il­le­gal to­bacco.

On top of the $1.18 bil­lion the tax­payer spends on the fu­tile war on other il­licit drugs, we are now spend­ing an equally fu­tile $7.7 mil­lion on try­ing to po­lice il­le­gal to­bacco. It’s a waste of time and money.

But not ev­ery­one agrees. Quit Vic­to­ria and Can­cer Coun­cil Vic­to­ria drew up a report on the use of il­le­gal to­bacco in 2011 which they say sup­ports the no­tion that only 2-3 per cent of the to­bacco smoked in Aus­tralia is black mar­ket. Bri­tish Amer­i­can To­bacco com­mis­sioned Deloitte to do a sur­vey in 2011 and they came up with a fig­ure of 15.9 per cent. In May this year, a KPMG report put the fig­ure at 13.9 per cent.

The Can­cer Coun­cil dis­puted Deloitte’s fig­ure and no doubt would do the same for KPMG.

It also claims the Na­tional Drug Strat­egy House­hold Sur­vey “shows defini­tively that the vast ma­jor­ity of smok­ers who have ever used il­licit to­bacco no longer use it and — of those who do still use it — most used it only oc­ca­sion­ally”.

So why would to­bacco users who have been pay­ing about $15 for 100g of il­le­gal to­bacco sud­denly ditch it and start pay­ing the rec­om­mended re­tail price of about $55 for 50g of the le­gal prod­uct?

Are they say­ing the chop chop deal­ers just packed up their bags and went home?

Or are they say­ing that the peo­ple buy­ing il­le­gal smokes de­cided they had bet­ter start pay­ing the taxes and levies on le­gal smokes? It doesn’t make sense. The price rises on to­bacco and the amount of public ed­u­ca­tion on

smok­ing have caused many peo­ple to stop — no doubt about that.

Smok­ing com­mer­cial to­bacco, laden with chem­i­cals, preser­va­tives, flavour en­hancers and other sub­stances to keep you com­ing back, is about the worst thing you can do for your health.

But when it comes to the health of so­ci­ety, things are more com­pli­cated.

De­spite what the Can­cer Coun­cil says, in­creas­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion on to­bacco will send po­ten­tially mil­lions of smok­ers into the black mar­ket.

There’s rea­son to ques­tion the Can­cer Coun­cil’s views be­cause they live in an aca­demic world di­vorced from the re­al­i­ties of the mar­ket. Coles is prob­a­bly its biggest spon­sor, hav­ing raised more than $10 mil­lion through the Daf­fodil Day ap­peal.

But Coles is also ar­guably the na­tion’s biggest re­tailer of le­gal to­bacco. Many peo­ple see a huge con­flict of in­ter­est.

And with the price of to­bacco so high, many re­tail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors are suf­fer­ing record thefts and as­saults as crim­i­nals re­alise steal­ing to­bacco is eas­ier than sell­ing drugs. They don’t even go for the till any­more. With 100 pack­ets of cig­a­rettes worth $2500, why would you waste time steal­ing cash?

With the fed­eral gov­ern­ment set to im­pose an­other four to­bacco tax in­creases in the near fu­ture, the price will be out of reach of many ad­dicts. The gov­ern­ment and the Can­cer Coun­cil think that is a good thing and no doubt an­other half a per cent of smok­ers might quit.

But for the other 12 per cent of Aus­tralians who still smoke, there could be an ex­o­dus to the black mar­ket. From there, it is pos­si­ble a black mar­ket in to­bacco could join up with the sellers of il­licit drugs to form a su­per black mar­ket worth bil­lions. If only a small por­tion of that goes to ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, or to strength­en­ing al­ready ex­ist­ing crime gangs, we’re in trou­ble.

Govern­ments and their health agen­cies need to al­low to­bacco ad­dicts to buy their prod­ucts at high but af­ford­able prices. They need to get to­bacco out of Coles and Wool­worths and into ager­e­stricted premises away from chil­dren.

And we need to come up with ever more cre­ative ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns about the dan­gers of smok­ing. FIONA PAT­TEN IS LEADER OF THE REA­SON PARTY

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