Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Illicit Tobacco and Vapes

Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Illicit Tobacco and Vapes Main Image

16 October 2023

I would first of all like to thank the member for Wide Bay for moving this motion. It's something that has been very close to my heart for many, many years, having lost my uncle to lung cancer, an aunt to chronic emphysema and many other relatives to diseases caused by smoking. Illicit tobacco is both a cancer on our society and a leading cause of cancer in our communities. I am greatly concerned about the impact of the legal tobacco industry. Australia, as we know, has led the world in tobacco harm reduction, but our smoking rates are stubbornly around 10, 11 or 12 per cent or even higher in some communities, particularly Indigenous communities.

We must do more to get those rates down because they have a significant impact both in terms of hours of care and in terms of cost to our health system not just from lung cancer but from a variety of other cancers, such as bowel cancer, prostate cancer and even breast cancer. Tobacco smoking increases the risk significantly for those cancers. There are also a number of people with chronic lung disease, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease that are putting huge pressure on our public hospital system. We must get our smoking rates down.

Of course, illicit tobacco is making this problem much worse. It causes significant harm in our communities. It reduces the cost of smoking because illicit tobacco is often sold much cheaper than tobacco that is regulated. This is one of the reasons our chronically stubborn smoking rates have been hard to get down. It is causing significant harm in our children and adolescents, especially those in lower socioeconomic communities and those who have been targeted by not only illicit tobacco but now illicit vaping products.

Regardless of all these things, our government is taking action on both the legal and the illicit tobacco industry. Illicit tobacco is a major issue facing our nation virtually wherever you go in metropolitan, rural and regional areas. It has significant law and order implications, particularly in terms of control, and of course organised crime is heavily involved in the procurement and sale of illicit tobacco. It goes straight into the hands of organised crime, and they, of course, have no compunction in selling it to children. Despite the valiant efforts of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, more needs to be done. We need to make sure that we adequately police illicit tobacco, that imports are confiscated and that the money organised crime is making from these products is taken by the government as well.

We also must be much stronger in policing our vaping products. We've already seen significant numbers of schools, including primary schools in my electorate of Macarthur, having to confiscate vaping products as well as illicit tobacco. There are joint efforts between the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, the ATO and police in my state of New South Wales. Operation Junglevine2 involved raids on illegal tobacco plantations across New South Wales and the confiscation of 264 tonnes of illicit tobacco. By removing this tobacco from the market we are helping reduce our smoking rates and improving our health system at the same time.

Recently the ABF supported joint Operation Aberdeen—which involved the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, Queensland police, the ATO, Queensland Health and the TGA—in confiscating almost $1 million in cash, eight million cigarettes and 3.74 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco and 60,000 vapes. It's a huge industry. It's causing huge harm. Our government is working to police and to control illicit tobacco and vapes. We are doing our best, but organised crime is very clever. Organised crime requires significant policing, and our government is doing their best to make sure that we keep this under control.