Australian Association of Convenience Stores

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The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), is the key trade body for more than 7000 petrol and convenience stores in Australia.1 Set up in 1990, it was previously called the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores.2 It describes itself as representing “the interests of all businesses within the Australian convenience store channel”.1Its members include tobacco companies, other large transnational corporations as well as small businesses and franchises.


AACS has lobbied alongside tobacco companies and echoed their arguments against public health measures. Legal tobacco sales are viewed as critically important for the Australian convenience industry, making up nearly 40% of total convenience store purchases and 25% of profits in 2021.34

Nicotine e-cigarettes are not legally sold in retail outlets in Australia, but are available by medical prescription from pharmacies.5

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

All three major transnational tobacco companies in the Australian market, Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) and Imperial Brands (Imperial), have been AACS members since at least 2018.6 The companies were listed as “Diamond and Emerald Members” on AACS’ website up to September 2022.7 As of 1 October 2022, they no longer appeared on this list.8

Membership benefits received by AACS member companies include “Government lobbying on issues impacting the industry”. Diamond members, who contribute $35,776 a year (in 2022), also benefit from “CEO engagement with Corporate Affairs team on industry relevant advocacy matters”.9

Figures 1 & 2: Diamond/Emerald members included all three major tobacco companies operating in Australia.7

AACS has accepted funding from tobacco companies over at least two decades. Internal documents show BAT co-sponsored its annual AACS Convention trade shows in the early and mid-2000s.10 Imperial was named as co-sponsor of AACS’s flagship annual convenience sector “State of the Industry Report” from 2014 to 2017.11121314 BAT sponsored the report in 2018 and 2019.1516

Board members and leadership team

Tobacco executives have served on the AACS board. They include:

  • Jason Erickson, Manager Key Accounts for PMI in 20141711
  • Bede Fennell, senior BAT corporate affairs executive in 2005-06.1819 A former NSW Liberal Party branch director and Senator’s political advisor, Fennell later moved to the UK to work as BAT’s International Regulatory Affairs Manager from 2010-2012.20

Two ex-tobacco company executives have formed AACS’s leadership team since 2021:

  • Theo Foukarre, Chief Executive Officer. He began his career as a BATA graduate retail trainee at a time when the industry was battling the introduction of tobacco product display bans, and participated in AACS’ study tours in the early 2000s. 2122
  • Ben Meredith, Strategy and Policy Advisor. Meredith held various positions over a 20-year career with PMI. His last role with PMI was Commercial and Partnerships director.23

In a trade press interview, Meredith cited a major career highlight while working at PMI as “the mobilisation and creation of a platform for major manufacturers to work together with industry partners on current and future legislative threats, the first in Australia”. Additionally, he was involved with securing $7m of Federal Government investment with the introduction of the Australian Border Force led Illicit Trade Task Force. The consortium has also managed to defeat the proposal of raising the smoking age to 21 in Tasmania three times in the last six years.”24

New Strategic Direction

Meredith’s appointment in 2021 coincided with AACS announcing it was embarking on a “game-changing” new strategic direction with an increase of “five times greater” spending in government advocacy and strategic policy.24 AACS has since undergone a major website and policy strategy overhaul, describing itself as now “working at the frontline to lead a range of initiatives concerning tobacco and nicotine, alcohol, sugar and general health in order to optimise consumer choice and balance.”25 As part of this work, in June 2022 it launched a new ‘ACCESS by AACS’ digital platform to encourage retailers and consumers to lobby for changes to Australia’s e-cigarette sales laws and for packaged alcohol to be legally sold in petrol and convenience stores.26

Lobbying Activities

AACS has lobbied alongside tobacco companies against a wide range of public health measures over the past two decades, including point-of-sale and display bans,27 minimum purchasing age laws,28 restrictive e-cigarette legislation,29 plain packaging,30 and increases in tobacco excise taxes.3132293132

Plain Packaging

AACS was an original member of the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR), a front group set up in 2010 by PMI, Imperial and BAT to fight the Australian government’s pioneering plain packaging laws.33

AACS was forced to withdraw that same year when the media exposed Big Tobacco’s multimillion dollar backing for AAR to run a political campaign against the government.34 However, it has continued to lobby against plain packaging laws in the media,3536 as well as in Federal and state government submissions. Its arguments typically mirror those of the tobacco companies. In its 2019 submission to the Australian government’s review of the 2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, AACS echoed BAT’s submission that plain packaging had been a failure and should be repealed, arguing that the policy had increased retailer costs and fuelled the illicit tobacco trade with “no discernible impact” on smoking prevalence.3738

E-cigarette regulation

Under its former CEO Jeff Rogut (2011-2020), ACCS joined the push to legalise retail sales of nicotine e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products for Australian consumers around 2015. Activities included lobbying politicians and writing submissions to related government inquiries; giving evidence at a major Federal parliamentary inquiry into the use and marketing of e-cigarettes in 2017;3940 and commissioning research and surveys about public support for newer products such as e-cigarettes.41

Between 2019-2020, AACS was a key member of a now defunct front group the Australian Retail Vaping Industry Association (ARVIA). In February 2021, the Australian Financial Review reported that the ARVIA secretly received hundreds of thousands of dollars from PMI under a contract with PR and lobbying agency Burson Cohn Wolfe.42 Other members included the Master Grocers Association and the Australian Lotteries and Newsagents Association, both of which also have current or past tobacco company members.4344

In 2022, all three retail trade bodies jointly called upon the Australian Government to urgently convene a National Vaping Summit.45 They claimed that the current regulatory model was fuelling the “ever-rising black market “and allowing children to access vapes illegally”, but did not provide independent evidence to support either statement.46 In response to questions about its tobacco company members and their efforts to overturn Australian’s e-cigarette laws that prohibit retail sales without a doctor’s prescription, AACS’s Theo Foukarre told the Financial Review in July 2022: “We unashamedly support our members and will always fight for their needs to remain relevant in a competitive market”.47

Minimum tobacco purchasing age

AACS was part of a consortium of retail industry associations that lobbied the Tasmanian government alongside the tobacco companies, including PMI between 2015-2021, and succeeded in defeating a proposed Bill in Tasmania’s parliament to raise the minimum tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 years.48

It claimed such a measure would “cost jobs” and drive Tasmanians to buy illicit tobacco thus giving “another free kick to the criminal gangs supplying the market”.49 This is an argument often used by the tobacco industry.

Illicit trade

AACS is a regular attendee, alongside PMI, BAT and Imperial, at the twice-yearly Illicit Tobacco Industry Group meetings with government officials. This forum was set up in 2016.50

AACS has issued press releases5152 and spoken in the media53 regarding the impact of the illicit market on tobacco and e-cigarette trade, and has promoted the tobacco industry-funded KPMG’s annual illicit trade global reports.54 It has described Australia as a lucrative market for smugglers that has increasingly suffered “a huge spike in the illicit tobacco trade, fuelled by the regulatory environment of regular and excessive excise increases on legal tobacco, and spiralling since the introduction of plain packaging”.5455 This is another argument often used by the tobacco industry.

Point of Sale Display Bans

In 2004 the Queensland, South Australian and NSW Governments were considering proposals to ban the display of tobacco products at the retail point of sale. In response, AACS helped form the National Alliance of Tobacco Retailers (NATR), with the objective of lobbying against these “drastic proposals” and to “protect tobacco retailers’ rights to display and sell a legal product to adults”.27 The NATR, which represented 15,000 convenience stores, petrol stations, newsagents and small retailers nationally, with a combined tobacco product sales total of $8billion27 urged its members to contribute donations to a special NATR “fighting fund”. 56

Other Memberships

AACS is a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose members in 2022 included BAT and PMI, and Imperial in 2020-21.5758

Relevant Link

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  39. Australian Parliament House, Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport Inquiry into the Use and Marketing of Electronic Cigarettes and Personal Vaporisers in Australia, AACS Submission, 8 March 2019
  40. Mr Jeff Rogut, Chief Executive Officer, Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), Official Committee Hansard Melbourne, 5 October 2017, p. 24
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  50. Department of Home Affairs, Illicit Tobacco Industry Group. 2016-2021 Summary of Meeting, undated, accessed 20 October 2022.
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