‘Ruthless!’ Rishi Sunak warned against unleashing ‘dangerous turf war’ as critics rail against cigarette ban

‘Ruthless!’ Rishi Sunak warned against unleashing ‘dangerous turf war’ as critics rail against cigarette ban

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Jack Walters

By Jack Walters

Published: 12/04/2024

- 19:48

Australia's convenience stores chief warned a 'black market' could explode across the UK

Rishi Sunak has been warned against unleashing a “dangerous turf war” in the UK, with critics citing events Down Under as a possible consequence.

Experts believe a cornershop crime wave could reach Britain if the Prime Minister pushes ahead with his plans to prohibit tobacco for people born after 2009.

Australia’s smoking laws are pretty similar to those enforced in the UK, with controls over packaging and graphics.

However, Canberra’s attempts to push prices up to around AU$50 have made the illicit market even more rife.

Smoking, Rishi Sunak, gang

Rishi Sunak has been warned his measures to crackdown on smoking could result in a turf war


The figure is almost double the cost for a packet of cigarettes in the UK, which is well above the retail price in mainland Europe.

Victoria in Australia is witnessing illegal gangs battle to gain control of the illicit tobacco market.

Police were forced to investigate 27 fires linked to the illegal tobacco trade over a seven-month period.

The illicit market has also grown exponentially, soaring to around AU$5billion.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores said: “These crime groups are in the midst of a dangerous turf war as they try to gain ultimate control over the vape and illicit tobacco black market.

“Tobacconists are being firebombed on a weekly basis. In Victoria alone, there have now been more than 50 firebombings of retail stores in the last 12 months.

“They target any store that will not sell their black market product.

Victoria has witnessed a surge in tobacconists being targeted

Victoria has witnessed a surge in tobacconists being targeted


“These groups make huge, tax-free money from selling black market products and the penalties they face are pretty minimal, so there is a lot to gain and very little consequence.

“It is quite scary how ruthless they are. The safety of entire communities is being put at risk.”

The Australian Border Force released its annual report last year showing the number and value of tobacco seizures has surged across the country since tighter restrictions were introduced.

ABF seized more than 2,000 tonnes of tobacco in 2022/23, the report confirmed.

The amount seized constituted an increase on the 1,600 tonnes recovered the previous year.

Foukkare claimed: “There is very limited enforcement. Police in Australia just aren’t resourced enough to take on the fight, especially when you look at the other types of crime they’re fighting every single day.”

“Legitimate convenience store owners are terrified. They’re being threatened by shady characters that they will be firebombed if they don’t agree to sell black market vapes and tobacco. They’re worried for the safety of their staff, their families, their customers and their communities.”

A man smoking a cigaretteA man smoking a cigarettePA

He added: “If the Australian experience is anything to go by, I would be extremely surprised if a black market war did not explode across the UK. Learn from the Australian Government’s mistakes. Prohibition has never worked and is pushing Australians right into the arms of the black market.

“Australia used to be a world leader in tobacco control but over recent years the number of Aussies who are quitting smoking has flatlined. Aussies aren’t quitting tobacco - they’re just buying the illegal, tax-free black market products that are widely available here. The black market is booming and crime groups are the only ones who are benefiting in Australia.”

Sunak is hoping to introduce strict measures to curb smoking, claiming tobacco is proving detrimental to the health of Britain.

The Prime Minister proposed preventing anyone who is turning 15 this year, or younger, from ever being able to legally buy tobacco products.

The plans are supported by an overwhelming majority of Britons, with almost three-in-four Conservative voters also backing the measures.

However, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced his concern about the “nuts” measures while speaking at an event in Canada.

Boris JohnsonBoris JohnsonGETTY

He said: “We are, on the whole, in favour of freedom and it is that single Anglo-Saxon idea of freedom that I think unites conservatives, or should unite conservatives.

“And when I look at some of the things that we are doing now, or that are being done in the name of conservatism, I think they are absolutely nuts.”

The ex-Prime Minister added: “When the party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars, donnez-moi un break as they say in Quebec, it's just mad.”

Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss has also been critical of the plan, claiming it is “profoundly unconservative”.

There have even been reports the Prime Minister could face a rebellion of around 100 MPs when the legislation is brought to the House of Commons next week.

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