Only two TDs oppose cigarette price hike

Move passes without vote but some TDs raise concerns over Border cigarette smuggling

 Simon Harris  said measure was part of a multi-faceted approach to turning Ireland into a tobacco-free country by 2025. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Simon Harris said measure was part of a multi-faceted approach to turning Ireland into a tobacco-free country by 2025. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Just two TDs opposed the Government decision to increase the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes by 50 cent.

Fourteen TDs contributed to the half hour Dáil debate on the move before it was accepted without a vote.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government would be far better off imposing levies on the manufacturing industries whether it was alcohol, sugar or tobacco, rather than consumers.

The Dun Laoghaire TD said his party had traditionally opposed the increase as he was not convinced people gave up smoking because of the price increase. He said the ban on advertising and the graphic images on cigarette packets were far more effective.

He said the increase would be an “excessive financial burden” for people “addicted to a toxic substance”, when what they needed was help and support in giving up.

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae told Minister for Health Simon Harris he was trying to price people out of smoking but “you have to go about it in a different way”.

The Kerry TD said he knew the seriousness involved because many of his friends had died from smoking-related lung cancer, but he said the move was very unfair on people who were addicted.

Some smokers would “buy a packet of cigarettes before they’d buy food”, he said.

Minister for Health Simon Harris who introduced the measure said it was part of a multi-faceted approach to turning Ireland into a tobacco-free country by 2025, where less than 5 per cent of the population smoke.

He said currently 17.6 per cent of people were smokers, down from 24 per cent in 2007.

The increase will bring the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes to €12 and 79.3 per cent of that packet would involve excise and Vat.

He stressed that “increasing tobacco product taxation is a key part of public health policy”.

In a full year he said the increased taxation would yield €63.8 million.

‘Dishonest’

But Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien said the Minister’s figures were “dishonest”.

His party supported the policy direction but estimated the increase to be cost neutral while some experts suggested it was as likely to cost the State €40 million because the more that was charged the fewer people who bought the cigarettes.

But the Minister told him that the “forecast is solid” and he had been advised that the estimate would be met by year end.

A number of TDs called for greater investment to prevent cross-Border smuggling.

Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach said the largest illicit trade was across the Border. The Louth TDs said he knew the efforts undertaken by Revenue and Customs against smugglers.

Fine Gael Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick said the 50 cent increase was going to increase smuggling on the Border and more had to be done about the cigarettes coming illegally from developing countries. “We don’t know what’s in them,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy asked about the Government’s plans to deal with illegal tobacco coming into the country and said there had to be a clamp-down on smuggling.

Labour TD Sean Sherlock called for assistance for smokers using nicotine replacement therapies which were being sold in pharmacies “at exorbitant prices”.

He said “it has been argued that smokers are replacing one addiction with another”.

Independent TD Michael Harty said the increase should have been €1 not 50 cent. He added that the focus should be on young people. “Speaking to teenagers about the smell of smoke from their clothing is far more important than health issues because young people think they are invincible”.

Fine Gael TD Tom Neville agreed that the focus had to be on young people and why they smoked. He said he smoked for a number of years and started aged 13 or 14 “because I was bored at school”.

He expressed concern that “young people are taking it up particularly because of body image”.