Along with perfume and alcohol, cigarettes are a staple duty-free purchase for many Australians heading overseas. A cut in the allowed amount of duty-free durries is bad discal news for smokers, but is it also a problem for everyone else?
Picture by Leah Jones
As of last Saturday (September 1), the allowance for bringing in tobacco in Australia has been dramatically reduced. The previous limit was 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of cigars. The new limit is 50 cigarettes or 50 grams. This doesn't just apply to cigarettes you purchase duty-free; it covers any tobacco you've acquired, as Customs makes very clear on its site
All tobacco products in accompanied baggage are included in this category, regardless of where or how they were purchased.
That means if you have a pack with you to smoke at airports en route and one in your luggage, you're essentially done.
From the point of view of discouraging people from smoking, I can only see this as a good thing (and it lines up with other changes such as the imminent introduction of plain paper packaging for cigarettes). As a non-smoker, I've never researched how much cheaper cigarettes are when purchased duty-free. Indeed, the only comparisons I've ever done on duty-free pricing was to work out if alcohol was cheaper in outbound Australian airport stores than on landing. (The answer is no.)
Not everyone is happy about the changes. The Australian Airports Association put out a press release arguing that the changes to the allowance would result in longer airport queues because of the large number of tourists who won't know the rules and who will thus either have to surrender their cigarettes or pay extra duty when they land. AAA CEO Caroline Wilkie predicted this would be a particular problem with Chinese tourists. "We know there will be no advertising of the change in China until November — two months after the restriction starts -‐ and China is one of the highest tobacco user countries in the world."
While discouraging more airport queuing seems a reasonable goal, the AAA is hardly a disinterested party. If duty-free shops sell less tobacco, they make less money and can be charged less rent by airport owners. Indeed, Wilkie almost admits as much in the release with this argument: "We know passengers will spend less time in duty free stores on arrival and instead proceed straight to the primary line, creating longer queues." I'm not sure arguing that we should make people buy cancer-causing addictive products in order to balance airport traffic is the way to go here.
That said, I'm not a smoker trying to balance my budget. The current excise rate for cigarettes is around 35 cents a stick. On a carton of 250 cigarettes, that would amount to a saving of around $87.50. On 50 cigarettes, it's a more measly $17.50. Would you go to the effort to save that amount on just a couple of packets? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman hasn't purchased duty-free anything in quite a while. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.