The research team, headed by La Trobe PhD Candidate John Baker, identified 125 tobacco retailers in the Victorian Local Government Area, but found that nearly half (43.2 per cent) of these retailers were deemed as ‘unknown’ to local government authorities, and were therefore potentially operating without any formal oversight.
Mr Baker said the report shows an alarming lack of government regulation of the retail availability of tobacco products in Victoria, despite previous estimates suggesting approximately 8000 tobacco retailers operate within the state.
“It was worrying to see how many tobacco retailers were considered ‘unknown’ by local government,” Mr Baker said.
“If we don’t have an accurate record of who is selling tobacco products, we can’t enforce public health measures and more importantly, we can’t monitor those retailers who are selling tobacco products illegally, or who are supporting the illicit tobacco trade,” he said.
Dr Sarah White, director of Quit Victoria says the study highlights the need for a state-wide licensing system to ensure both state and local governments know exactly who is selling tobacco and e-cigarette products.
“Victoria has fallen well behind best practice and the rest of Australia when it comes to enforcing state laws aimed at protecting public health. Victoria and Queensland are the only states in Australia that don’t have a retail licensing scheme in place, which means retailers who are breaking the law by selling illicit tobacco or by selling cigarettes or e-cigarettes to kids are not being regularly monitored and caught,” Dr White said.
Mr Todd Harper CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said that research on Victorian attitudes conducted by the Cancer Council and other research by the team at La Trobe University on Australian attitudes had shown high levels of support for the licensing of tobacco and e-cigarette retailers.
“About 83 per cent of Victorians supported the idea that retailers should have a license to sell tobacco products,” Mr Harper said.
“The introduction of a retail licensing scheme in Victoria would mean that retailers doing the wrong thing are penalised appropriately. It would be a strong deterrent to selling cigarettes or e-cigarettes to children, for example, if repeat offenders could lose their license to sell at all,” Mr Harper said.