Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Today's is written by ACM national agriculture writer Chris McLennan.
Some people are surprised to discovered crooks are in the tobacco growing business.
Sure, smokes are on the nose both from a health and a community perspective but despite all the warnings people still do enjoy their vice.
You can even buy them across the counter at the newsagent, cafe or supermarket, surely they can't be illegal?
No, those cigarettes and tobacco pouches are not illegal, but they are tightly controlled.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade.
International criminal gangs have been quick to sniff out a buck.
Tobacco manufacturing is highly regulated in this country and big tax (excise) dollars are involved - worth many millions of dollars.
At these high prices, selling illegal tobacco can turn a bigger profit than selling heroin, and cannabis is well down the list these days.
These crooks have also wised up to the advantages of leasing farm land to grow their illegal crops in Australia rather than risk buying the dirt.
Farm leasing provides them anonymity.
Federal authorities are warning unsuspecting farmers and absentee owners to wise up to their responsibilities when deciding to lease their ground.
They have busted a number of illegal growing operations in recent years where the property had been leased.
Because of all these excise dollars being lost, the Australian Taxation Office is in charge of tobacco busts.
Illegal tobacco growing operations have been shut down in recent times in NSW, Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria.
Just this year, multiple illicit tobacco crops throughout rural Victoria have been seized and destroyed.
Authorities claim most of these crops were were being grown on leased farms.
Illegal tobacco sales have also been targeted in Western Australia and South Australia.
Recent busts in NSW have included crops discovered at Thule, Kyalite, Koraleigh, the Snowy Valleys.
A recent raid at Linthorpe, west of Brisbane, authorities seized an estimated 25 tonnes of tobacco with a value of almost $40 million.
Victoria has been a popular target for gangs to grow tobacco at places like Broadford, Nhill, the Goulburn Valley although the Riverina areas seem most popular.
ATO assistant commissioner Jade Hawkins said they knew illicit tobacco growing operations are not run by the farmers.
"They are run by organised crime syndicates who evade tax, steal water, disregard regulations and do whatever it takes to grow their crop."
"These operations are not run by genuine farmers or landowners, but by criminals living and operating in local communities," a spokesman said.
A report in 2019 found almost a third of Australian farmers leased some land.
Lease rates are typically about five per cent of the land's value which makes it cheaper for the crime gangs to lease rather than buy but most times it was not the cost that prevents them buying farms.
Leasing can be much more attractive to criminals because they don't have to find the identification documents they would need to in a property transaction.
The farm owner needs to make sure who is leasing their land, and what for.
Engaging in the illicit tobacco trade is a serious offence, the ATO says.
"If the landowner is found to be knowingly involved in illicit tobacco growing operations, they may face criminal charges along with the organised crime group undertaking the cultivation," the ATO spokesman said.
The ATO works with its agency partners like the police through the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce to detect, disrupt and dismantle these operations.
The ATO says there are a number of the warning signs where land is being used to grow, manufacture or produce illicit tobacco.
This includes circumstances where unsuspecting landowners or farmers are approached to lease land by dishonest individuals.
November to May is peak growing season for illicit tobacco crops.
Officials urge the community to look out for unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage or corn.
"We use a range of investigative and legislative approaches to disrupt illicit tobacco activity," the spokesman said.
These include gathering intelligence, conducting investigations, working with law enforcement agencies as part of investigations and intelligence sharing then identifying, seizing and destroying identified crops, collecting evidence as part of prosecution activity and using the taxation and criminal laws to prosecute offenders.
If you suspect that illicit tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community, you can confidentially report it to the ATO online at www.ato.gov.au/tipoff or by calling 1800 060 062.
In case you are interested in filtering all the latest down to just one late afternoon read, why not sign up for The Informer newsletter?
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.