THE Australian Border Force said it is seeing a “significant” increase in attempted tobacco smuggling at the Australian border.

Between 1 January and 31 December 2021 the ABF found 878.8 tonnes of undeclared loose-leaf tobacco and 712.7 million undeclared cigarette sticks, a 45% increase on the previous year.

The combined weight of the detections in 2021 is more than 1377.7 tonnes, which is equivalent to approximately seven and a half Boeing 747s.

Most of the illicit tobacco consignments are arriving from the Middle East and Asia. Once the detections are made at the ABF’s air-cargo or container examination facilities, the illicit tobacco products are either kept for further investigation or incinerated.

Commander trade and travel operations east Susan Drennan said criminal groups who attempt to facilitate this illegal trade should stop wasting their time and money.

“Our detection numbers show we are very alert to the different methods and patterns of concealment used in illicit tobacco importations at our borders,” Commander Drennan said.

“Our message to those who think they can import such large amounts of illicit tobacco and get away with it – is to think again.”

Where tobacco smuggling is linked to serious and organised crime syndicates, it will be referred to the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF), which combines the operational, investigative, and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Commander special investigations Greg Linsdell said tobacco is a common choice for transnational criminal groups attempting to make profits at the expense of Australian communities.

“Organised crime groups capitalise on unwitting smokers looking for cheap cigarettes to enrich themselves and to fund other types of criminal activities that harm our community,” Commander Linsdell said.

“The ABF is working tirelessly to stop this activity both at our border and within Australia through a comprehensive and powerful ITTF investigative actions.

“We urge the Australian community not to buy illicit tobacco at your local shopfronts, not only is it a crime, but it facilitates other illegal activity and takes away potential income from genuine retailers who abide by the law and support their local community. If you are paying significantly less than normal retail for your tobacco, or if it is not in plain paper packaging then you know your money is going into the pockets of serious organised crime figures.”

The penalties for smuggling tobacco are severe and can include up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

Anyone with information about the importation and export of illicit tobacco or cigarettes should contact Border Watch. Information can be provided anonymously.