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Higher fees, less hours to sell tobacco proposed for ACT

Cigarette laws may change dramatically in the ACT.

Cigarette laws may change dramatically in the ACT.

The ACT Government is considering a big hike in licence fees to sell tobacco, suggesting fees could be doubled or more this year, with substantial increases each year to follow.

It is also considering limiting the number of shops that can sell cigarettes, perhaps just two shops per suburb, and restricting the hours between which cigarettes can be sold.

The government has called for feedback on a suite of ideas aimed at reducing access to cigarettes and encouraging people to give up smoking, with comments invited till May 12 at the Time to Talk website.

And newsagents are already saying they will be unfairly hit.

Tobacco sales make up anything from 15 per cent to as much as 30 or 40 per cent of newsagents' business, Newsagents Association of NSW and the ACT chief executive Chiang Lim said.

While an extra $200 might not break the bank, if fees rose as high as $1700 by 2016, they might give it up as too hard, he said.

"If you're really fair dinkum about tackling tobacco there are other ways of doing it rather than picking on newsagents and other small business retailers, when ironically the ones that win are the supermarkets," he said.

The tobacco licence fee is $200 a year, unchanged since 2003. At the moment, 361 outlets are licensed to sell cigarettes, with no restriction on the number of licences. The ACT Government believes higher fees would see shops giving up selling tobacco, and has suggested increasing fees by $200 or $500 a year to an upper limit – putting the fee for 2014 at $400 or $700.

After South Australia increased its fees from $12.90 to $200 in 2007 ($253 now), the number of licences dropped by nearly a quarter over two years.

The discussion paper suggests a cap on the total number of licences, or a cap on the number in each suburb as low as two sellers for each suburb.

It also proposes a new “fit and proper person” test for people selling tobacco, as another way of restricting licences.

And it suggests time restrictions and age restrictions on who can sell cigarettes.

Sales could be restricted to business hours or school hours, or between 9.30am and 11.30am, and 6pm and 9pm. Rules could be changed so that only people aged over 18 are allowed to sell tobacco, or tobacco could be restricted to age-restricted premises, such as bars.

To stop people buying cigarettes in bulk, there could be limits on the amount bought at a time.

Health Protection Service director for ACT Health John Woollard has acknowledged business concern and urged feedback so the right decision would be made.

“There is going to be a spectrum of views around this issue and I expect there will be quite polarised debate on it, but that’s fine, that’s what a consultation process is about – it’s about soliciting people’s views and hearing their views,” he said.

Tobacco is the number one preventable cause of death in the country, with 15,000 people dying every year.

“While our smoking rates in the ACT have roughly halved since 1998 we are still sitting at somewhere between 11 and 12 per cent … and 15,000 people are still dying each year from this addictive and nasty chemical,” he said.

Mr Lim feared if tobacco sales were aligned with liquor sales, supermarkets could take over the trade.

"This is just intrinsically unfair," he said. "The ones that tend to be most impacted and less capable of absorbing the costs are the small businesses; the ones most capable of absorbing costs are supermarkets."

He said if the ACT Government was serious about reducing tobacco consumption, it should look to limiting imports and tackling illegal tobacco sales.

ACT Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson said any increase in fees or red tape must be proven to reduce tobacco consumption and not just another tax on small business.

NSW, Queensland and Victoria don’t have tobacco licences for retailers. Licence fees in the other states and territories are broadly similar to Canberra, ranging up to $300 in Tasmania.



  • very good decision. now may be time to allow selling single sticks to smokers who are trying to quit.

    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 2:04PM
    • Selling individual cigarettes would only encourage those "social smokers" and low income earners to keep smoking.

      Teph 2
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 3:40PM
    • low income earners have other options of smoking anyway.. like loose tobacco.. cheaper cigerette..etc

      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 4:27PM
    • Just ban tobacco products. Full stop. Go ahead and do it. But they won't.
      The Federal government makes $6.5billion per year in taxes from tobacco sales.
      Tobacco companies give big donations to political parties.
      It has been reported in the past that members of parliament have shares in tobacco companies.
      A black market would be created overnight. Prohibition did not work on alcohol, it created criminal organisations that got rich like the Kennedy family in the USA.
      The medical associations would have to find something else to blame for deaths they failed to diagnose. Most likely alcohol would be their next target.
      It would be one way to stop the people smugglers from Indonesia. The moment tobacco products were made illegal, every people smuggler would be kicking the asylum seekers off of their boats and heading for our shores with tobacco products.
      You could then add the cost of patrolling our waters and coastline to stop tobacco smugglers to the lost $6.5billion in tax revenue. Then add the cost of policing, the courts and prisons to deal with "tobacco addicts".
      So go ahead and ban tobacco. Then I won't have to listen to the righteousness of non smokers any more.

      Over it.
      Date and time
      April 01, 2014, 10:57AM
  • Smokers who are trying to quit need to get themselves in the right mental head-space. Continuing to buy single cigarettes is hardly going to achieve that. You need to be really convinced that you are no longer someone who smokes. Nicotine patches will deal with the nicotine dependence issue, and chewing gum with help with the rest. Just don't replace cigarettes with high-kj snack food.

    Karina M.
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 2:56PM
    • Yes the fee should go up, the money should go straight to non health card ACT residents to get Champix or Patches for PBS price.

      Also the AGE allowed to buy tobacco should increase 1 year each year till its at least 21.

      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 2:58PM
      • What an awesome way to increase crime.

        So what, now you can look forward to getting mugged or killed because you have a packet of cigarettes in Civic on a Friday or Saturday.
        Or the only two stores in a suburb being targeted for them.

        On ya Canberra Nanny State to far.

        Date and time
        March 31, 2014, 3:01PM
        • What a stupid comment. Onya Dazza.

          Date and time
          March 31, 2014, 5:29PM
        • Correct Dazza, correct.

          Nut Case
          Date and time
          March 31, 2014, 5:39PM
      • I have no idea why people smoke. My mother has been smoking for years but I guess with the stress I have given her over my life I can't really blame here... lol

        Goodluck to all those out there who are wanting, trying and planning to QUIT!

        Date and time
        March 31, 2014, 3:10PM

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