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Availability of tobacco

In Australia, the law places few limits on who may sell tobacco, where and when they may sell, or the number of outlets selling tobacco.

Part IV of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control sets out Parties’ obligations on implementing measures relating to the reduction of the supply of tobacco.

In Australia, the law places few limits on who may sell tobacco, where and when they may sell, or the number of outlets selling tobacco. Tobacco can be sold from almost any type of retail outlet in Victoria and is widely available in virtually all petrol stations, milk bars, supermarkets, newsagents, licensed premises and convenience stores. Unlike the sale of alcohol, there is no requirement in Victoria to hold a licence in order to sell tobacco. This widespread availability can contribute to the idea that tobacco is a normal part of everyday life, is like any other grocery product and relatively harmless.

One of the important and feasible next steps in tobacco control is controlling the supply of tobacco by reducing access and availability of cigarettes.

There are a range of potential benefits underlying the reasons to decrease the availability of tobacco products in Victoria. These include:

  • reducing the prevalence of smoking among young people
  • enhancing the effectiveness of smoking cessation by assisting recent quitters and those who want to quit, and
  • reducing the health and economic disparities observed in smoking behaviours.

For further information, see Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues: Chapter 5.21 on Reducing Tobacco Access and Supply.

Current regulation in Victoria

In Victoria it is unlawful to sell tobacco in some circumstances, including:

It is lawful to sell tobacco in any other retail environment without the need for a licence. 
Victoria has a system in place described as ‘negative licencing’, where retailers, in addition to receiving a fine, may be prohibited from selling tobacco for specified periods of time where they are found guilty of certain offences. These offences include:

  • supplying tobacco to people under 18 years of age
  • illegally possessing or controlling certain forms of illicit tobacco.  

Periods for which retailers can or must be suspended for committing these offences currently include the following:

  • for a first offence: up to three months
  • for a second offence: mandatory suspension of up to three months or up to 12 months at the discretion of the Magistrate
  • where two or more offences have been committed: a mandatory suspension of five years.

Suspensions can relate to the premises in question where the offence was committed or to any new premises within 5km of those premises.

For further information on the obligations of retailers generally, see the Victorian Government website Retailers including premises with vending machines.

Making complaints

If you believe that a retailer or other individual is breaching any of the obligations set out above, contact the Tobacco Control Section at the Victorian Department of Health.

Options for reducing availability

A key mechanism for reducing availability of tobacco is a positive licencing scheme, where retailers need to apply and pay an applicable fee for a licence in order to be able to sell tobacco products. Licencing schemes can reduce availability by limiting the circumstances in which a retailer can apply for a licence to sell tobacco. Examples include:

  • the number and types of outlets permitted to sell tobacco
  • the opening hours during which tobacco can be sold
  • the location of tobacco selling outlets (for example, by introducing a cap on the number of places allowed to sell tobacco near schools).

Suggested Resources

Illicit tobacco

Illicit tobacco can be defined as ‘any tobacco on which legally required duties and taxes have not been paid’.

Find out more

Advertising & promotion

Since the 1980s Australia has been a pioneer in the control of tobacco advertising and promotion and today almost all forms of tobacco advertising are prohibited.

Find out more

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