Increase taxes on cigarettes and get tough with smugglers
OPINION:YOU CAN say one thing for the tobacco industry. Despite the fortunes they spend trying to hijack public health policy and manipulate public opinion, at least they don’t pretend to care about those their products kill and maim. Profit matters, people don’t.
Once the industry is viewed through the prism of this wanton disregard for human life, it is difficult to fathom how anyone could fall for their self-serving propaganda. But time and again, well-meaning people do.
Tobacco companies know that to maintain profits, they must replace about 50 smokers every day in Ireland who either die, or manage to quit. Teenagers are the main target for this lethal treadmill.
Industry strategists and their PR gurus have seized upon Ireland’s tobacco smuggling problem as the best vehicle to meet this objective. Not out of any public-spirited abhorrence of criminality, clearly. But because they can use the issue to oppose tax increases that stop young people smoking and transfer vast sums from their coffers to the public purse.
Their tactics are simple: Exaggerate the extent of the problem and its impact on the retail trade; discredit proven research about the impact of tax on smoking; and peddle the ludicrous notion that legal cigarettes – which contain 4,000 chemicals including substances used in the manufacture of rat poison and rocket fuel – are somehow “healthier” than contraband.
In The Irish Times last week, Eugene Regan (Opinion Analysis, September 7th) takes up much of the industry agenda, in a piece that is frankly shocking in some of its misleading assertions. It gains no credibility from his blind preference for distorted industry statistics over infinitely more reliable Revenue figures. He even asserts that illicit cigarettes are of “particularly toxic quality”.
Does that mean legal cigarettes which kill more people than the next six biggest causes of preventable death put together, including alcohol, obesity and illegal drugs are not particularly toxic? But it is his central thesis that would be most dangerous if any policymaker was ill-informed enough to listen – that tax increases don’t reduce smoking and duty per pack of cigarettes should be cut by €5 to eliminate the illicit trade. All credible research, including by the World Bank and World Health Organisation, has shown that taxation is the biggest weapon in tobacco control, with a 10 per cent hike yielding roughly a 4 per cent decrease in smoking rates.
This was borne out just last Monday when it was revealed that a 22 per cent US tax increase imposed by President Barack Obama has resulted in three million fewer smokers and reduced the rate among teenagers by 10 per cent.