Illegal tobacco farms worth millions have been uncovered in the Bundaberg region. Generic file image.
Illegal tobacco farms worth millions have been uncovered in the Bundaberg region. Generic file image. Warren Lynam

Bundaberg declared one of nation's illegal tobacco hot spots

BUNDABERG'S illegal tobacco growers have been put on notice as the Australian Taxation Office ramps up its campaign against an industry it says costs the community $600 million annually.

An advertising campaign has been launched as part of the fight against the trade, with Bundaberg identified as one of Australia's illegal tobacco hot spots.

Bundaberg is listed as the only illegal tobacco growing hot spot in Queensland.

>> INFOGRAPHIC SHOWS EXTENT OF ILLEGAL TOBACCO PROBLEM 

The revelation comes after a man fronted court last month following the discovery of more than $60 million worth of illegal tobacco on Bundaberg farmland.

In 2018, ATO officers and police raided properties at Pine Creek and North Isis, uncovering more than $30 million of illegal tobacco crops.

At the time, it was declared the nation's biggest ATO investigation.

ATO Assistant Commissioner Peter Vujanic urged the Bundaberg community to be vigilant as the tobacco growing season reached its peak.

"The tobacco growing season typically runs from November to May," he said.

Mr Vujanic said illegal tobacco led to criminals pocketing money that would otherwise make its way to the community.

"The profits which these syndicates make from the sale of illegal tobacco fund their lifestyles and allow them to continue to engage in criminal behaviour well beyond the sale of illegal tobacco," he said.

"It also takes away potential tax dollars from the Australian community which could otherwise go to essential services such as roads, school and hospitals."

Since July 1, 2016, the ATO has carried out 38 seizures of about 240 tonnes of illicit tobacco across Australia.

Bundaberg locals may notice advertising in their Facebook news feed, in local papers and when browsing the internet.

The ads are designed to help people recognise the signs of illegal tobacco growing operations and report it to the ATO.

Tobacco plants thrive in the Bundaberg region and legal tobacco was once a booming industryfor the region before it came to an end in 1982.

It was often grown as a rotational crop alongside sugar cane.

According to the ATO, growing tobacco in Australia for commercial sale or personal use is illegal and has been since 2006.

Illegal tobacco includes the grown plant, loose leaf tobacco (known as chop chop) and counterfeit cigarettes made to look like commercial cigarettes that may be more dangerous.

Illegal tobacco can be reported to ato.gov.au/illegaltobacco or by calling 1800 060 062.



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