Beyond the financial losses, the money flowing to cigarette smugglers has real implications for public safety. Profits made from illegal tobacco have been used to fund terrorist groups, and small-time criminals in Europe have used cigarette peddling to raise money for devastating attacks linked to ISIS. As the Australian Crime Commission has pointed out, criminal organizations in general rely on cigarette smuggling as a profitable, lower-risk source of revenue compared to hard drugs and other contraband. As if to drive the point home, a corruption scandal that came to light earlier this year uncovered kickbacks paid by these criminal groups to the Department of Agriculture and other border officials to help them get their chop-chop through. There are also health concerns, as cigarettes produced illegally overseas don’t trouble themselves with respecting product standards in force in Australia.
In June of this year, the government announced the creation of two new “tobacco strike team units,” charged with fighting these organized crime networks. In April, the Australian Border Force dismantled a Melbourne-based trafficking ring that has illegally imported 13 million cigarettes and robbed the government of $45 million in revenue. Amazingly, those major busts still only represent a drop in the bucket compared with the amount of illegal tobacco bought and consumed in Australia annually. Even so, the recent attack seems to indicate that police efforts have been enough to ruffle feathers. Unfortunately, the work of the special units dedicated to combatting the tobacco trade receives only modest support and funding from the government.