Why tobacconists are choosing to be fined

Tobacconists are reportedly choosing fines, fearing arson attacks. Picture: NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

Tobacco sellers are reportedly choosing to cop council fines rather than risk being targeted by Melbourne’s underworld by refusing to stock illegal tobacco products.

Victoria Police believe at least 60 tobacco and vape stores have been targeted by arson attacks in the past year, including in both Melbourne and regional Victoria.

On Monday, officers unveiled a new scheme targeting landlords by sending out letters reminding them of the risks posed to their current insurance arrangements.

Despite being heralded by police as a “unique” and novel way to target illegal tobacco shops, a report by the Herald Sun found many owners favoured being fined.

Industry sources told the Melbourne paper they were opting to pay the couple hundred dollar fine rather than risk their store potentially being burnt to the ground.

Fires in Glenroy in Melbourne's north believed to be linked to tobacco conflicts. Picture: Instagram
Fires in Glenroy in Melbourne's north believed to be linked to tobacco conflicts. Picture: Instagram

“It’s understandable why some owners choose to unwillingly participate in selling illicit tobacco and vapes to protect the safety of themselves, staff and families,” they said.

“If you’ve got the threat of being physically hurt or your business being torched versus paying a fine to the local council and protecting your safety … it’s understandable.

“With all due respect for the people handed this job, they’re being asked to interact with potentially serious criminal gangs.”

Illicit tobacco products shipped to Australia from China and the Middle East often come without health warnings required by Australian law.

According to Victoria Health, failing to display health warnings on tobacco products can incur a fine of two penalty units, equal to about $384.

Police at the scene of a firebombed tobacco shop in Epping. Picture: NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

The sale of “fruit-flavoured or confectionary-flavoured” cigarette products as well as single cigarettes is also strictly prohibited by law.

Health inspectors have the power to inspect public areas of tobacco retailers and can request details of someone who they believe may have committed an offence.

Other sources told the Herald Sun scores of council workers were themselves also “worried about having to tell illicit tobacconist they were being checked”.

They claimed staff had sought advice from a senior ABF official in how to deal with stress, including from potential ramifications or threatening behaviour.