You read that right. In addition to drugs such as ice and cocaine, crime syndicates are now channelling profits back to terrorist groups through cigarettes and tobacco leaves.
High taxes on tobacco coupled with the government’s anti-vaping stance have made the tobacco black market a highly lucrative one.
Charles Miranda gives us the alarming facts uncovered by the Australian Border Force and Australian intelligence agencies:
‘It has been learnt Australia’s multiagency counter terrorism agents, including the ABF, Australian Federal Police and ASIO, have been warned by overseas counterparts notably both US and French authorities and Interpol that the tobacco smuggling industry was being taken over by terrorist networks.
Specifically suspects linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban in Pakistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon and elements linked with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred (AQIM) in North Africa, Islamic State (ISIS) and even Colombian militant group FARC who traditionally have been involved almost exclusively just in cocaine production.’
Illicit tobacco is a “low risk, high reward” industry and the funds from this trade could be channelled into other black markets with even more dire, unforgiving consequences for civilians and public safety both here and abroad at a time when terror outfits are becoming increasingly brazen in their operations.
Providing alternatives, such as legalised nicotine vaping, to make black market tobacco less appealing is a sensible way to counter the problem without directly affecting the health and mood of smokers who are otherwise forced to turn to less successful and more abrupt quitting methods. Switching to vaping has been recommended as a smoking cessation aid by long-term studies as well as independent public health authoritiesbecause it allows smokers to obtain a nicotine fix without being exposed to the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals inherent in combustible tobacco smoke. If our government doesn’t take pragmatic action on the issue now, the predictions for the black market trend in the next few years don’t look good:
‘The level of illegal trafficking attempts is expected to rise significantly with a 12.5 % increase in excise and customs duties to come in this September under the Federal Government’s May budget, to make the average cost of a packet of cigarettes the most expensive in the world at up to $40 a packet.’
Even if organisations such as the TGA and the Australian government are immune to facts that keep life-saving technology legal, they ought to nonetheless concede that replacing cigarettes could significantly reduce funding to these terrorist groups.
But the problem isn’t going to stop with black market tobacco. The failure to legalise nicotine solutions means that it’s only a matter of time before these too end up in the black market with funds directed to terror groups in the Middle East. In fact, there is already a growing black market for nicotine solutions with dangerous and unregulated 99% pure nicotine solutions available online from China.
Satya Marar is Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
Marija Polic is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in Tobacco Harm Reduction Now]