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Swipe left on illegal smokes: Bootleggers take to Tinder

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Cigarette bootleggers in Victoria have come up with a novel online Point of Sale: Notorious mobile dating app Tinder.

It seems criminals are always on the look-out for new ways to make a buck. Now it appears they have turned to online hook-up app Tinder to move stocks of illegal tobacco.

According to the Herald Sun, the dating app is being used by tobacco traffickers in Victoria to sell cigarettes for $18 a packet. The paper claimed that smuggled cigarettes had been sold on dating apps “at a low price” and generated “large illegal profits”.

Tobacco is one of the most highly taxed commodities in Australia (and across the world) and because of that, it is attractive to serious and organised crime as one of the world’s most smuggled illegal goods.

Organised crime syndicates smuggle their products to avoid paying revenue to the state, which allows them to sell the cigarettes below market value with bigger margins.

Government action

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told C&I that the Australian Border Force (ABF) uses a combination of investigators, highly trained search teams, intelligence analysis and state of the art technology to detect the movement of illicit goods, including undeclared tobacco, into Australia.

In October last year, the ABF’s Tobacco Strike Team was formed to disrupt serious and organised crime syndicates smuggling illicit tobacco into Australia. Since that time, the Tobacco Strike Team has already identified a number of criminal syndicates suspected of trading illegally in tobacco sourced from overseas.

“The ABF is aware that illicit tobacco is traded online and the Tobacco Strike Team recently made a number of arrests in relation to the alleged sale of cigarettes via the internet.

“Tobacco Strike Team investigators have already seized more than 25 tonnes of smuggled tobacco and 50 million smuggled cigarettes,” the spokesperson said.

“Through these seizures the Tobacco Strike Team has stopped the evasion of more than $45 million in duties and taxes.”

The health risks associated with cigarettes are well known, however, illicit cigarettes pose a greater risk as the source of the tobacco, and the conditions in which it is manufactured, are unknown.

Impact on retailers and consumer concerns

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has consistently reinforced the message about the major impact the trade of illicit tobacco has on honest, responsible retailers of legal tobacco products, with CEO Jeff Rogut emphasising that there’s much more that needs to be done to combat the criminals, in the face of concerns that illicit tobacco may be funding terrorist activities

“The concerns of the Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner that funds from the illicit tobacco trade are flowing to overseas extremist groups reinforce the urgent need for Government to re-think its regulatory approach to legal tobacco and properly support law enforcement efforts to stop smuggling,” he said.

A survey commissioned by AACS and released in September this year showed that around 22 per cent of Australian smokers had been offered illegal or illicit tobacco products.

The research also indicated that 58 per cent of consumers were extremely or very concerned about the impact of illicit tobacco on retailers of legal tobacco. However, the biggest single consumer concern (77 per cent) was that tobacco could be a revenue-earner for organized crime, who use that revenue to expand their criminal activities into socially damaging areas like ice production and distribution.

“The high profile seizures of contraband tobacco at our borders, links to criminal gangs and even terrorism highlight the enormity of the illicit tobacco issue,” Mr Rogut said.

“The regulatory environment for legal tobacco in Australia has seen us become one of the most lucrative markets for illicit tobacco in the world.

“Our police and customs officials do a tremendous job of cracking down on illicit products. However, we need to support this good work with proper regulations. Endless excise hikes on legal tobacco play directly into the hands of these gangs and makes the job of our officials so much harder.

“We remain very concerned about the proliferation of illegal tobacco being blatantly sold from some unscrupulous retail premises as well as markets etc and encourage authorities to do more at this level to apprehend those breaking the law and using the powers they have even under the plain packaging regulations.”

Tobacco smuggling is a criminal activity. The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment. Penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.

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