Booming Illicit Tobacco Industry Reinforces Need To Legalise Vaping

The public health activists are claiming that our smoking rates are going down. 

But a survey conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission gives us a different picture of the situation. The Saturday Paper has revealed that in fact the illicit tobacco trade is booming and it has substantial economic and policy effects. As Craig Kelly put it: although the health sector may cheer about an extra tax on tobacco, ‘all the other people who are cheering are the bikie gangs and other groups involved in the illicit trade’.

This survey was a wastewater analysis which is considered to be a more reliable manner in which to collect information about drug use – since self-reporting can be (either deliberately or innocently) incorrect. Nationally, wastewater analyses have indicated that the rate of tobacco use is going up – not down. So naturally, this means that illicit tobacco use must have skyrocketed.

Which leads to a logical conclusion: plain packaging reforms haven’t worked. They have just shifted the focus elsewhere from conventional cigarettes to illicit tobacco.

The ATA’s Director of Public Policy, Satyajeet “Satya” Marar has argued consistently against the “Great Plain Packaging Swindle”. His article outlines the scam of plain packaging. It has essentially been fed as a success story to various public policy actors, the unsuspecting public and most of all, smokers. Like the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Mr Marar has found that despite our plain-packaging laws and extremely expensive cigarettes, ‘more people smoke in Australia than they did in 2013’.

The plain packaging policy does not do the government any favours here, and the introduction of the policy has coincided with the sharp increase of illicit tobacco use in recent years.

Sinclair Davidson, an economics professor at RMIT University, has stated that ‘there is no empirical support for the plain packaging policy’. Mr Marar notes that Sinclair Davidsons’s report conclusively shows that ‘when adjusted for tax refunds and the timing of the policy’s introduction, tobacco excise actually went up by 0.5 per cent in the wake of plain packaging’s introduction’.

Essentially, all that plain packaging has achieved is that smokers have simply switched to cheaper brands. Tax revenue has not improved and the rate of smoking has increased,

This is precisely why the legalisation of vaping is so essential, and that fearmongering by opposition groups and government bodies is simply putting people’s lives and finances at risk. Study after study shows that vaping is a far healthier alternative to smoking, and has aided smokers in quitting and improving their health. There is growing support to legalise vaping.

For instance, the Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia has officially supported the use of e-cigarettes as a ‘harm replacement tool’. A recent consultation on e-cigarette advertising in the UK has concluded that there are ‘serious misperceptions amongst the general public’ about e-cigarettes and that advertising for this life-saving technology would be a massive step in the right direction.

The stats on illegal tobacco use are there. So instead of continuing bad policy, it’s about time our government listened to medical and professional bodies who have been fighting to legalise a life-saving technology. This would save the taxpayer money, and the government resources.


Marija Polic is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.




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