ABF-led joint agency operation seizes $13.5 million worth of vapes, tobacco, firearms, and cash


The Australian Border Force (ABF) and partners have seized more than five and a half million cigarette sticks and prevented hundreds of thousands of prohibited vapes and drug paraphernalia from reaching the streets of Sydney, as government agencies continue their hard-line crackdown on the illicit tobacco and illegal vape trade.

ABF-led Operation CALOR commenced in December 2023 – supported by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Australian Federal Police, NSW Health and NSW Police Force – with the intent to disrupt the end‑to‑end illicit tobacco and vape supply chain from importation through to distribution and sale, and to stop these harmful goods from entering into the Australian community.

Across Tuesday 6 February and Wednesday 7 February 2024, agencies executed 39 Commonwealth warrants across the Sydney metropolitan area – including at two residential properties in Rosebery and Macquarie Park; storage facilities in Macquarie Park, and Moore Park; commercial premises in Bankstown and Rosebery; and a tobacconist shopfront in Kingsford.

Across these locations, ABF officers seized approximately 5,621,711 cigarettes, 404kg of loose leaf tobacco, disposable vapes and drug paraphernalia, along with four gel blaster firearms and about $277,000 cash.

While the TGA seized approximately 210,000 disposable vapes for destruction and 14,000 unlawful therapeutic goods, and NSW Health located 3,255 disposable vape products, 46,551 cigarettes and 4.8kg of loose leaf tobacco for destruction.

In total, the estimated potential street value of the illicit goods located and seized during the operation is $12.5 million.

Investigations into the alleged crime syndicate remain ongoing.

This operation comes following the seizure of 6,000 disposable vapes at an air cargo facility in Sydney last week, the first seizure at the NSW border since the new border regulations on vapes came into force on 1 January 2024. Inquiries into the importation of these goods continues.

ABF Assistant Commissioner Tony Smith said the joint agency collaboration throughout this operation has allowed for increased intelligence sharing to enhance end-to-end enforcement action from importation through to sale.

“Our enforcement response to address illicit tobacco and vaping products disrupts the business model of those that seek to profit irrespective of the impact on the Australian community – including the health of our children. The ABF is well and truly on the front foot when it comes to the new vaping regulations and we will continue to target, locate and seize these goods at every opportunity.” Assistant Commissioner Tony Smith said.

“We are alive to those involved in large-scale importations, and we will continue, with persistence, to restrict and disrupt organised crime syndicates from profiteering from the illicit tobacco and vape trade.

“The amount of illicit tobacco, vapes and cash, along with gel blaster firearms and drug paraphernalia seized during this operation demonstrates how this is an attractive market for organised crime syndicates. These syndicates use profits to fund lavish lifestyles and link to other forms of criminality, including drug supply.

“The ABF and all our state and federal enforcement partners have one common goal – to stop these syndicates from causing further harm to the Australian community.” Assistant Commissioner Tony Smith said.

Professor Anthony Lawler, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care and head of the TGA, said this was another example of Commonwealth and state and territory agencies working together to enhance intelligence and enforce the national vaping reforms.

“Nicotine vapes pose health risks including nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning, exposure to toxins, and serious injuries and burns. Additionally, it is still unclear what the long-term health impacts of vapes may be.

“In addition to the seizure of vapes, the TGA seized over 14,000 unlawful therapeutic goods, including COVID-19 rapid antigen tests. It is a serious offence to import, export, manufacture, advertise or supply a therapeutic good without it being on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, unless an exemption applies.”

NSW Minister for Health, Ryan Park, said strong joint action was needed at all levels of government to ensure young people and the wider community are protected from the harmful impacts of vapes.

“It took us over three-quarters of a century to reduce smoking rates across Australia. We now have an opportunity to stem the tide of vaping before it impacts generations of young people to come,” Mr Park said.

“Working with our Federal colleagues, we are tackling the issue at its source to protect the lives of young people. There is nowhere to hide for retailers who are doing the wrong thing. We want them to know the time to stop selling vapes is now before they have us knocking at their door.”

Anyone with information about the importation of illicit tobacco or cigarettes should contact Border Watch at the ABF website. By reporting suspicious activities, you help protect Australia’s border and the community. Information can be provided anonymously.

If you suspect that illicit tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community, you can confidentially report it to the ATO online by making a tip-off or by calling 1800 060 062.

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