From The Saturday Paper:
According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics national health survey, adult smoking rates fell from 16.1 per cent in 2011-12 to 14.5 per cent in 2014-15. The National Drug Strategy household survey shows a similar decline.
But the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s annual national wastewater survey, in which household waste is tested for the presence of various drugs, tells a different story. Law-enforcement agencies consider it more reliable because it’s hard to hide what’s in your urine. The commission’s 2017 report issued in July, from testing conducted between October and December last year and February this year, shows tobacco use nationally going up, not down.
At an August senate estimates hearing, acting chief executive of the ACIC, Nicole Rose, said reports based solely on official tobacco sales or answering survey questions were not always accurate.
“You’re talking about the difference between licit and illicit tobacco,” Rose told the committee. “I suspect that is what the difference would be.”
At some point the Australian federal government should concede that the tobacco control policies of the last decade have failed. Failed, of course, if the objective is to reduce the incidence of smoking. If the objective of tobacco control is to enrich criminals, finance international terrorism, and North Korea’s nuclear program then the policy has been a glorious success.
The former head of the government’s illicit tobacco taskforce and a now-retired former Australian Federal Police officer, Rohan Pike, puts the lost tax revenue figure at more like $4 billion.
Pike – who consults to the Australian Retailers Association, which has tobacco companies as clients – made a submission to the tobacco inquiry, some of which was redacted before publication because of fears it could jeopardise operations. Pike says all government agencies must take the issue more seriously, but that it isn’t only about lost revenue.
“The second issue is to differentiate tobacco control from tobacco crime,” he says.
Craig Kelly agrees: “Although the Health Department might cheer about this [higher prices], all the other people who are cheering are the bikie gangs and other groups involved in the illicit trade.”
Actually no. Let’s not differentiate tobacco “control” from tobacco “crime”. In the bootleggers and baptists model everyone has clear objectives and incentives and acts accordingly, but in reality we well know that control and prohibition efforts lead to criminality. As such tobacco control and tobacco crime have common purpose and should be treated as such.