Australian police have conducted significant seizures of illegal tobacco and cigarettes this month, coinciding with a turf war between retailers and a rise in violent incidents. The Australian Border Force (ABF) reported a surge in the number and value of tobacco seizures, which is suspected to be linked to the underground tobacco trade in Australia. In the 2022-23 period, the ABF seized over 2,000 tonnes of tobacco, an increase from the previous year’s 1,600 tonnes.
In Melbourne alone, law enforcement conducted searches at 34 retail outlets and two residential properties last week as part of an investigation into organized crime syndicates involved in illicit tobacco. These searches resulted in the seizure of 53,147 vapes worth over $1.5 million, 712,385 cigarettes, and more than a tonne of loose-leaf tobacco. Victoria Police are currently investigating approximately 30 incidents of violence believed to be connected to the illegal tobacco trade.
The recent incident of a store in Melbourne’s north being set on fire for the second time this year highlights the ongoing violence associated with the turf war. The government is currently focusing on regulating tobacco products, particularly vapes, due to their involvement in the illicit trade. The ABF emphasized its commitment to supporting the government’s crackdown on illicit tobacco, which organized crime views as a low-risk, high-reward venture.