Australia - illegal cigarettes readily available..

July 6, 2009 - Right in the middle of Australia's biggest city - Sydney you can walk into a shop and buy an illegal (illicit, black market, contraband) packet of under-the-counter cigarettes for $7. Apart from being much cheaper than the mainstream brands, which sell for about $13 a packet, they don't have any of those confronting health warnings.

The ready availability of illegal cigarettes, which are understood to be in stock near many housing commission estates around the country, runs counter to a blizzard of government policies designed to discourage smoking. These include a New South Wales (NSW) government ban on smoking in cars carrying children that started this week. (New South Wales - July 1, 2009 - Great Day for Tobacco Control..)

NSW will soon be the first state to introduce a ban on the display of cigarettes in shops, with other states to follow. On top of this, the Rudd government is widely expected to announce a sharp increase in taxes on cigarettes following the Preventative Health Task Force's final submission to Health Minister Nicola Roxon this week. There has been no increase in the tax for a decade.

Anne Jones, chief executive of anti-smoking lobby group ASH Australia, said selling cigarettes without health warnings was illegal in itself but on top of that the sellers of illegal cigarettes had evaded federal excise duty, which normally made up 69 per cent of the retail price, and had no doubt also failed to pay customs duties.

Inner-Sydney resident Les Shearman has been trying for years to expose the illegal cigarette trade because of his concern about its impact on his friends' health. He believes the ready availability of cheap cigarettes is a major factor in their excessive smoking.

The Weekend Australian accompanied Mr Shearman while he purchased an illegal packet from Broadway Tobacco, located on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares. It took only seconds for him to purchase the pack from the woman behind the counter. No questions. No fuss. "They are incredibly easy to get," he said.

While there are a number of illegal brands, the cigarettes on this occasion were called Magna . They come in a plain red packet with no details apart from the name. They can be bought on the internet for as little as $US12.50 ($15.65) a carton.

While an occasional smoker himself, Mr Shearman said the multi-million-dollar illegal tobacco trade, both for "chop chop" and filter cigarettes, was having a bad impact on many of his neighbours. "I noticed that a lot of my male friends who are exclusively smoking illegal tobacco were developing hacking coughs," he said. "The cough is indicative of the volume they are smoking. It is a real, racking smoker's cough.

"We are talking about a group of people without much cash, and cigarettes at half the price is very attractive."

Ms Jones said price was the single biggest issue affecting tobacco consumption.

"Children are the most price responsive of all," she said. "Illegal cigarettes are being sold to low-income people, who not only as smokers will die a decade earlier than the average citizen, but will spend the last 10 years of their life with a chronic disease burden, desperately sick and unhappy."

Ms Jones said she could not understand why the government was allowing the illegal trade to flourish so blatantly.

Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health said the laws were so easy to flout because the government was not taking its inspection duties seriously. "If it is so easy for the likes of you and me to find a shop selling illegal cigarettes, why is it so difficult for the Australian Federal Police to find them?" Professor Chapman said. "The answer is they have just not got their eye on the ball."

Another ban not enforced: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia - Councils responsible for Sydney's beaches have not fined one smoker, four years after the ban was introduced. (Cigarette beach ban goes up in smoke in Sydney, The Australian, 1/11/2009.

Reference: Illegal cigarette trade has plenty of puff, John Stapleton, The Australian, 7/4/2009.