Australia’s illicit black tobacco market has continued to “explode”, according to police, with illegal tobacco linked to a string of recent gang murders and arson attacks across the country.

Scott Weber from the Police Federation of Australia told an inquiry into new vaping and smoking laws that the black cigarette market has become an increasing problem for state authorities.

“It’s definitely delved into organised crime and become a serious organised crime problem for police. We’ve just seen recent events including murders and arson attacks in Melbourne and Queensland and they are being investigated by police as we speak,” Mr Weber said on Thursday.

“They are being committed by organised crime and it’s centred around the illicit tobacco trade because there’s so much money in this trade and its occurring across other states and territories as well.”

At least 28 tobacco stores across Melbourne have been targeted by arsonists this year. A recent firebombing attack made against a store in the city’s north in late October had been linked to an ongoing trade war between two large crime syndicates.

More than two million dollars worth of illegal tobacco products were seized in Victoria last month as part of a probe into organised crime.

Mr Weber said morale among police was low and called for a more streamlined process to crack down on illicit tobacco to enable authorities to tend to more serious issues like domestic violence and public safety.

“It’s only going to take up more of our resources which are extremely limited at the present moment,” he said.

The tax gap triggered by illegal tobacco manufacturers climbed to a record $2.3bn in October, according to the ATO. Mr Weber claimed this figure could climb up to $3bn within the next financial year.

“This is a huge crime issue for us considering across the entire Australian jurisdictions we’ve got a reduced number of police officers,” he said.

Mr Weber’s testimony was heard during a Senate inquiry into new government laws which aim to crack down on legal tobacco and nicotine use in Australia.

The new legislation, announced by the Albanese government in May, aims to enhance graphic warnings on packaging and individual cigarettes, and improve transparency of tobacco sales volumes and advertising.

It will also stop the import of non-prescription vapes and completely ban all single use, disposable vapes.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), claimed the new laws would only increase accessibility and benefit the black market.

The AACS noted that it accepts money from three of world’s largest cigarette and vaping manufacturing companies.

“I don’t think vaping products could be more available then they are today,” Mr Foukkare told Senators.

“They are available online, and almost in every street corner depending on the suburb that you’re in. I’ve had uber drivers try to sell me vapes, I’ve heard of fish and chip shops trying to sell vapes.”

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