The Duty-Free Allowance For Tobacco Just Shrunk: Will That Ruin Australian Airports?

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.


    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      Wouldn't mind knowing WHY it was inappropriate.! After all it was just tongue in cheek and could hardly be seen as offensive to anyone..??

        just paraphrase it and put it back up. ;)

    There are cheaper ways to obtain tobacco. I regularly purchase pipe tobacco in USA based online shops (up to 4 times cheaper than here in Australia) and never have been asked to pay any customs fee/GST/etc.

      Do you have a link to said website?

      How many tins or qty of bulk do u order in one go? I've bought 5x50g & 1x100g tins from & wondering what the customs would charge for them? Cheers.

      I am having visitors from Europe in the new year who smoke.Where will they be able to get cheaper cigs,

    50 grams... or about 3-4 decent sized cigars.

    I'm not a smoker but just sounds like an excuse for the government to squeeze more money out of those people already addicted as the numbers slowly drop.

      that's exactly what it is. The government believes it will be another revenue stream to help bring the economy back into the black. They don't realize that no one pays the tax now on the 250 stick restriction

    Singapore have a no duty free allowance for tobacco. they don't seem to have any issues.

    There are already enough financial disincentives in place to stop people smoking if they choose not to. Anybody buying bulk cigarettes in duty free (or asking ther friends to) has already made their choice and won't be put off by this.

    The plain packaging is designed to stop new people being tempted in by flashy advertising. That's a great idea, everybody should be educated and make the choice of their own free will. But if they do make the choice to smoke, I don't see the point in repeatedly punishing them for it.

      Probably because they repeatedly punish the already struggling health system.

        smokers pay more tax than anyone else we support the health system and half of everything else
        plus if its so bad for us and makes us die early surely that will leave more money for the wrinkly old non smokers sitting in nursing homes with alzheimer's popping government subsidized medications to live in a nappy wearing fog drawing pentions for longer at least smokers leave inheritences for our kids

      The point is that they repeatedly punish those of us who do not choose to use, but who are stuck with it getting all over us via second hand smoke. I can't wait for the day that smoking is like sex - legal to do, many people like to do it, but the vast, vast majority would never consider doing it in putlic.

    This is nothing now. When the alcohol changes come through, they stopped you from bringing in your open bottles as these also started to count to the 2litres.

    A mate and coworker was caught out by this yesterday. Got a heap of flack from the jumped up little customs man for not knowing (after my mate declared it as well). Apparently we should all be checking if customs rules are changing before we leave the country.
    My mate grumbled a bit, then got asked to throw his bag up on the counter so his bag could be examined (i.e. all the contents removed).
    The moral. Kiss up to customs workers because they are tools.

      Kiss up to customs workers because they are tools.

      ^^ Isn't that one of the first rules of international travel, right after "that damp towel they give you shortly before you land is not to wipe your pits with"?

      Umm... we SHOULD be checking custom rules before leaving the country, at source and destination. Otherwise, you get what you deserve.

    It is an absolutely ludicrous change. I am all for restricting the sales of cigarettes, as they are more of a chemical slew of junk than tobacco. But I for one, enjoy quality cigars and pipe tobacco and the range in Australia is absolutely dismal and outrageously priced. Always took the opportunity to pick up a few sticks/tins when I was abroad.

    mmmmm, Prince.

    A year or so ago when I was visiting the United States. I had a couple of cartons of Dunhill shipped over from Australia to smoke while I was there. I had 10 and a half packs left over when returning back to Australia. Whilst going through customs they asked if I had anything to declare, I declared the pack in my pocket and the other 10 packs in my luggage. I was expecting to pay duty only on the roughly half pack I had in my pocket that was over the allowance... NO, I was required to pay duty on all of the cigarettes because I had exceeded the limit. I could have easily failed to mention what I had in my luggage, not mentioned the half pack in my pocket and gone through freely. I asked to speak with a supervisor, explained the situation, he said "I'm about to go on holiday, I don't care, you can go" and that was that., good guy.

    I will be going on another trip later this year, so I'll miss out on the old allowance . At least I'll be able to smoke cheaply while I'm there. $55 carton vs $135 carton.

    I've looked in to paying the duty on a carton of cigarettes, I came up with a figure of $80. So unless I'm wrong, it's totally worthless to import cigarettes.

    Oh, and as a smoker and tax payer, this is bullshit.


    Nothing to stop you continuing to buy in the states. Just declare it and pay the duty on arrival. Nothing saying you can't bring tobacco into Oz, just a change to the quantity that doesn't attract duty.

    i think it screams revenue raising.. Our rates of smoking are declining, so sales must be also. So why not limit the amount of cigarettes incoming tourists can purchase duty free; that way they have to buy them (with duty) while on holidays.

    I guess this is how the government plans to fill the black hole created by people ditching cigarettes.

    i don't even smoke and i feel sorry for the smokers!

    Shall I declare and pay tax if I am bringing 30 new books at $50 each?

    The two biggest cigarette manufacturers take >$600M in profit each year in Australia but leave behind an estimated $31B in medical costs.

    I don't see the problem in restricting supply ...

      The $31 billion isn't in medical costs, it's in social costs: the financial value placed on the sense of loss felt upon the death of a loved one, the estimated value of unpaid housework not done due to illness, not earning an income post mortem, etc. Most of these costs are theoretical, and are also applicable to non-smokers.

        Unless you're claiming that less than 2% of that $31B is directly from medical costs, bugwans point stands.

          I was just pointing out that the amount quoted is for estimated non- financial and intangible social costs for the 2004-2005 financial year, and not for medical costs. I'm not sure what bugwans' point is, other than pointing out that the profits made by two multinational cigarette companies is a lot less than an amount produced by an old government report that claims that in a world with no current or previous smoking there would be no childhood burn injuries.

    As an ex smoker i feel sorry for the poor bastards trying to save a bit of money, but honestly thats not going to stop people smoking considering you can get a stronger amount of tabbaco internationally . Ever smoked a 20 mil ciggie it's a bit of a mind fuck literally..

    When young I smoked a very small amount - pipes, cigars and cigarettes. I stopped 53 years ago. Tobacco smoke smells foul and so do smokers. They are rude crude people who think it's their right to force everyone near them to breath second hand smoke. If you are down wind from a smoker the stink from their smoke must be breathed from as far as 20 or 30 yards. Three close friends who were smokers died slowly and painfully from lung cancer. The oldest of them was in his early sixties. What a stupid habit. What an expensive way to kill yourself.

      I would honestly rather die young than turn into you, Mr. McKibben.

    lets say HK sells a certon of winfield (10 packets) for $30. i declared it at AUS custom n pay tax about $60. i end up paying $90 in total. compare what i have to pay in AUS local shop $125( 8 packets).

    I feel for smokers - but everyone is slammed at Customs, I once came back with just around a nip too much open booze...and trying to laugh it off I said he could keep my snapped answer "Mate! you have to pay it all in duty - you cant be illegal!"
    Then when it came time to check the Wood and Shells - he fobb'ed me off with a "Ehh...its fine".
    So...if you have too much booze or ciggs - DEAR GOD YOU WILL PAY THE GOVERNMENT!
    If you have Wood/shells that have vermin that could cripple the food/farmers etc and cause untold trouble - so what...its ok as long as you pay up for your defaulting the government of their $50!


    sorry, a little late to this party. Found out after my brother was charged $100 in excess cigarette tax this week. I realise smoking is bad, its my choice. This is totally ridiculous. Goodbye Gillard.

    @ Walter McKibben. I find it disturbing and very sad that you assume that all smokers are rude and crude. Given you are, from your comments, chronologically advanced, that would be as impolite as me stating that all people over 70 years should be banned from driving because they are incompetent accident creators and a danger to those that do not need constant medical check ups for health and eyesight issues. Fortunately, I am not as ignorant as that.

    I am a smoker and I agree with both sides (when put with a degree of eloquence) of the argument. That said, it does reek of revenue raising and a cheap veiled political stunt to give the impression that the government is getting tough on smoking laws, whilst clandestinely forcing people addicted to one of the most addictive drugs the world has ever seen, to be forced to purchase them to continue to fill the government coffers.

    Make them illegal! Oh, hang on, that won't help us get the budget back in surplus. As Stevo says "Goodbye Gillard". The question on eliminating cigarettes is not an easy one, yet this government continues to take the easy option that ensures they continue to be the parasites of others pain, suffering and addiction. I fly back from BKK in the first week of December and look forward to tearing my 50 cigarettes up, throwing them all around customs in Sydney and no doubt just wait for the fine for littering.

      Dont say "goodbye Gillard" , as Tony Abbott and his coalition voted IN FAVOUR of this legislation ! As a budgie smuggler wearing athlete, he is a strong anti tabacco advocate, and was a former federal health minister himself.

    I am a smoker, however there is nothing good to say about smoking, but it is my choice and I enjoy it. Question is, why does the government target smoking with the plain packaging high pricing etc. and anti smoking adverising? This governmnt should level the playing field by spending the same amount of revenue on advertising anti junk food, anti drinking, anti drugging. THEY ALL HAVE SIMILAR RESULTS! Heart desease, artery problems, kidney problems BRAIN PROBLEMS, SOCIAL PROBLEMS, monetary expense and much much more! WHY IS ADVERTISING (PROMOTION) ON JUNK FOOD AND BOOZE NOT STOPPED< WHY IS PLAIN PAPER PACKAGING ON BOOZE AND JUNK FOOD NOT INTRODUCED? The last nail in the coffin, the government decides what brands cannot be sold here either, YOU CANNOT BUY CAMEL NON FILTERS ANYMORE< SOMEHOW THEY DO NOT COMPLY? What a joke and a farce!!!!!!

      Mate totally agreed. I see fat people on street strugle walking.. Targetting on smokers are just wrong..i smell something..maybe cig company stopped paying "ministers" under table?

    Its not the federal govt that decided on anti smoking campagn it was a minority MR BROWN!!!!!!

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