TAX officers yesterday raided a Eurobin farm seizing and destroying “ornamental” tobacco plants.
Workers emptied the contents of one of two hothouses on the property by mid-afternoon leaving, a pile of plant trays as the only evidence of their handiwork.
Tax office cars and trucks surrounded the modest home but the officers wouldn’t talk about the raid.
The tobacco strain, grown last year under an Excise Act loophole, was this week added to the banned list of tobacco that requires tax office approval.
A spokeswoman was unable to confirm whether there was any ongoing investigation.
It is unclear what happened to last year’s crop that was said to be grown for medicinal purposes.
The tobacco industry, centred on Myrtleford and the Ovens Valley, was wound up three years ago amid allegations of an increasing level of black-market activities — tobacco sold under the counter said to rob the Federal Government of as much as $500 million in excise each year.
Yesterday the tax office spokeswoman confirmed the definition of banned tobacco had been expanded to include Nicotiana sylvestris, also known as night scented tobacco.
“This means no one is allowed to grow Nicotiana sylvestris unless they have a licence from the tax office,” she said.
“This includes for any commercial purposes.
“Nicotiana sylvestris has now been added to the list of prohibited tobacco plants, which includes Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rusticum.
“If any other species of Nicotiana are developed whose leaves are used for smoking, chewing or snuff, these species would also be considered tobacco plants.”
Last summer on the farm, tucked away in the foothills of Mount Buffalo, Ahmed Abbas said he had approval to grow 2ha of the “ornamental” tobacco.
He said it could be used as a nicotine patch or as an ingredient in a natural fertiliser but insisted it was not for smoking.
Yesterday a man, who said he was a friend of the farmer, said they planned to sue.
“Norm” said the plant was not tobacco and its medicinal purposes were well known and the actions of the tax office the result of complaints from former tobacco growers.
He said the harvested crop was to be sold to overseas.
Tobacco Co-operative of Victoria’s president Colin Masterton yesterday admitted he was aware of the changes to the legislation that now banned the growing of the “ornamental” tobacco.
He was waiting for a letter from the tax office before informing his former tobacco co-operative members.
“We believe this is the right course of action, it now puts it all under control,” he said.