ON THE CHEAP: Illicit tobacco is being sold in bags like this in an Ipswich shop.
ON THE CHEAP: Illicit tobacco is being sold in bags like this in an Ipswich shop. Rob Williams

Illicit tobacco is easy pickings, if you know where to look

ILLICIT tobacco is being sold just 400m away from Ipswich Police Station, even though the authorities have known for months.

The QT can reveal a shop on Limestone St named Gifts and More is selling the contraband tobacco for about $40 less than customers pay at licensed outlets.

Illicit tobacco is sold without and costs Australia hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Members of the public at Ipswich Courthouse told the QT about the "cheap tobacco" shop where 50g of tobacco costs just $20.

A 50g pouch of Winfield Gold, for example, costs $69 from the supermarket.

But you only pay $40 in exchange for two 50g bags of the tobacco product at 7/54 Limestone St.

The Coles in Ipswich CBD and the Icon Tower are clearly visible from the shop.

When we visited, the shop assistant could be heard saying she was running low but "expected to get more this week".

A customer says she's after "a couple of pouches" and asks how many she can get for "$50 bucks".

The shop worker directs the customer to keep the tobacco in the fridge so "it doesn't go mouldy".

The products are placed in a brown paper bag before being handed over.

A spokesperson for Queensland Police said the State Drug Squad was not aware of any reports of persons selling illegal tobacco in the Ipswich area.

The Australian Border Force, the lead agency cracking down on the illegal tobacco trade, said it was aware of allegations but would not say if businesses were, or were not, being investigated.

But the QT has seen documents showing the business' activities were reported directly to Border Force and Minister for Border Protection Peter Dutton in March, by a reputable source.

Those documents also show the allegations had been reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in January, and the Australian Federal Police in November 2017.

Tobacco products are one of the most highly taxed commodities in Australia and the illicit tobacco trade costs the Australian economy about $600million a year in lost revenue.

A spokesperson for the Australian Border Force said illicit tobacco trade often funded organised crime.

"(Tobacco) is an attractive market for organised criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made by evading tax," a spokesperson said.

"Profits are often channelled back into organised crime."

"So, it's vitally important that we do everything we can to crack down on this lucrative black market and those involved in it."

The Federal Government last month established a new Illicit Tobacco Taskforce to work with key government agencies.

"With this Taskforce, we can now better target all aspects of the trade in illicit tobacco both in Australia and the supply chains overseas," the Australian Border Force spokesperson said.

"People buying these products, whether it's at the markets, or small local retailers, should be aware that by doing so they are supporting the criminal networks involved in an illicit market worth hundreds of millions of dollars."

Consequences

SELLING illegal tobacco is punishable by a maximum two years' imprisonment along with a $105,000 fine.

Right now, there is a proposal before the Federal Parliament to increase those penalties for anyone found to be buying and selling illicit tobacco.

Rules for selling tobacco products in Queensland are so strict that merely failing to erect correct signage can attract a $42,000 fine.

Under The Excise Act, "a licensed dealer must not intentionally deal in tobacco seed, tobacco plant or tobacco leaf knowing, or being reckless as to whether, the dealing contravenes this act or the dealer licence."

If the proposed legislation before the Senate to amend existing acts is passed, the penalties for selling and buying illicit tobacco would be significantly increased.

Want to report something?

People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco should contact Border Watch by going to australia.gov.au/borderwatch.



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