Illicit Tobacco and Vape Market Exploiting Children, Victoria Police Warn

Illicit Tobacco and Vape Market Exploiting Children, Victoria Police Warn

In a concerning revelation, it has come to light that organized crime groups in Victoria are exploiting young children in their bid to control the state's illicit tobacco and vape market. During a recent public hearing for a parliamentary inquiry into tobacco and e-cigarette controls, Assistant Commissioner Martin O'Brien shed light on the alarming tactics employed by these criminal organizations.

According to O'Brien, gangs are paying youths as little as $500 to carry out arson attacks on shop fronts. These acts of arson are just one manifestation of the ongoing battle for dominance in the illicit tobacco and vape trade. As legal tobacco prices continue to rise, criminal syndicates have seized the opportunity to profit from the demand for cheaper, illicit alternatives. O'Brien emphasized that these products are predominantly sourced from China and Arab nations, making them easily accessible to organized crime networks.

The allure of the illicit tobacco and vape market lies in its low risk and high profit potential. Unlike more traditional forms of organized crime, such as drug trafficking, the penalties associated with trafficking in tobacco products are significantly lower. This has emboldened criminal groups to engage in activities such as arson and extortion in their pursuit of control over the market.

The involvement of young children in these criminal activities is particularly troubling. O'Brien revealed that gangs are recruiting youths to carry out arson attacks for minimal financial compensation. This exploitation of vulnerable individuals highlights the lengths to which organized crime groups are willing to go to maintain their grip on the illicit trade.

Despite the risks and consequences, dozens of shop fronts and other venues have been targeted in arson attacks as part of the ongoing turf war. However, O'Brien noted that there hasn't been an arson incident related to tobacco in about a month, attributing this lull to significant law enforcement efforts and arrests.

In response to the escalating situation, Victoria police are advocating for the implementation of a wholesale licensing scheme, similar to those in place in other states. Such a scheme would provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to identify and crackdown on illegal tobacco operations. O'Brien emphasized that this regulatory framework would make it easier to identify businesses operating illegally, particularly in regional areas where oversight may be lacking.

While the police are supportive of efforts to combat the illicit tobacco trade, O'Brien stressed that they do not want to be the sole enforcers of tobacco regulations. Instead, he called for a collaborative approach involving various stakeholders, including government agencies and industry partners.

In March, Premier Jacinta Allan announced plans to introduce a tobacco retailer and wholesale licensing scheme in Victoria. This proactive step aims to address the root causes of the illicit trade and disrupt the activities of criminal organizations operating in the state.

The proposed licensing scheme has received widespread support from law enforcement agencies and policymakers alike. By implementing robust regulatory measures, Victoria hopes to stem the flow of illicit tobacco products and protect vulnerable communities from exploitation.

In conclusion, the revelations from the parliamentary inquiry highlight the urgent need for action to address the scourge of organized crime in Victoria's illicit tobacco and vape market. By implementing a wholesale licensing scheme and adopting a collaborative approach, authorities can work together to disrupt criminal networks and safeguard the well-being of the community.

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