Passengers arriving from overseas will be fuming about new duty-free tobacco restrictions that come into effect tomorrow.
Airports have warned inbound passengers can expect long delays in customs halls around the country as officials attempt to enforce a new cigarette limit of two packs per adult, down from the current limit of 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco products.
The Federal Government has cut the duty-free allowance to 50 cigarettes (effectively two packs) from September 1, and any brought into the country from tomorrow over the limit have to be declared for payment of federal duties or be surrendered.
The Australian Airports Association, representing the nation's airports, has slammed the rushed implementation of the new duty-free allowance, saying it will divert already-stretched customs officers from the front line of passenger processing.
Officers will be patrolling passenger queues to request passengers to surrender cartons of duty free cigarettes over the two-pack limit or pay the tobacco duty due, the association said.
"Travellers are already experiencing delays being processed as they enter Australia at a number of our international airports due to last year's cuts to Customs staff. This ill-considered implementation date for the duty free tobacco cuts is going to make an already dire situation disastrous," said the airport association's chief executive Caroline Wilkie.
Passengers, particularly from the burgeoning inbound Asian and Chinese tourism markets, have been given little or no warning, the association says.
"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," Ms Wilkie said.
"We know the education campaign will not begin overseas until September 1 and will not involve radio, television or newspapers. Consequently people will arrive from other countries with no knowledge of this new restriction."
The situation is set to cause chaos in arrivals, she warned.
"We have been advised overseas-based duty free retailers will not advise those travelling to Australia of the changes to allowances, as they will lose sales.
"We know the new restrictions will mean Australia doesn't comply with known international duty free standards and conventions, causing added confusion.
"This is the perfect storm waiting to happen and in the long term it is Australia's tourism industry that will face the damage," Ms Wilkie warned.
Ms Wilkie said the association's requests to delay the implementation of the new limits until March next year have been "ignored" by the Federal Government.
"Airports are concerned that implementing this new restriction tomorrow will cause significant pressure on airport infrastructure and create major delays at the primary line because Customs have not been given enough time or money to deliver an education campaign and operational plan for a smooth implementation process," she said.
"Australian airports invest billions of dollars to improve the passenger experience. This initiative from the government will have serious consequences for our nation's reputation with travellers and a direct impact on repeat visitation of international tourists.
“The timing of these new restrictions is even more unfortunate considering the hard work currently under way to encourage people from Asia to come to Australia despite the mess that will be waiting for them on arrival," Ms Wilkie said.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the organisation "has implemented a domestic and international awareness campaign to ensure international travellers are aware of the new tobacco duty-free limit".
"We are ready for tomorrow's implementation and have taken steps to minimise any impact on passenger flows wherever possible. Like any change, there is always a settling-in period, and we expect this will be the case with the tobacco duty-free limit change.
"We thank passengers for their patience during this settling in period," the spokesperson said.