WHO urges €2 increase in cigarette prices


IRELAND SHOULD continue to increase the price of cigarettes to put them out of reach of young people, according to a senior policy adviser to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Judith Mackay said yesterday that putting an extra €2 on a packet of cigarettes would be “spot on”, discounting claims by the tobacco industry that increasing the price of tobacco only led to smuggling and therefore it should be avoided.

“If you have to pick one single thing to bring the tobacco epidemic down and particularly reduce smoking among young people, it has to be taxation . . . it’s a simple matter of affordability,” she added.

She said the tobacco industry was behind a lot of tobacco smuggling to evade tax and flooded markets with cheap cigarettes so children could use them.

“A third of all traded cigarettes in the world are smuggled. This is not little men in boats, It is the industry itself that is orchestrating this,” she said.

Dr Mackay was in Dublin for the launch of the third world Tobacco Atlas on the second day of the Livestrong cancer summit at the RDS.

The report says the Irish economy lost $980 million (€684 million) in 2007 as a result of tobacco use. The figure includes costs around absenteeism from work, lost productivity and premature death.

According to Atlas, tobacco use kills six million people each year, more than a third of whom die from cancer, and drains $500 billion (€349 billion) annually from global economies.

It says the tobacco industry has shifted its marketing and sales efforts to countries that have less effective public health policies and fewer tobacco control resources in place. It states that in Bangladesh alone, if the average household bought food with the money normally spent on tobacco, more than 10 million people would no longer suffer from malnutrition and 350 children under the age of five could be saved each day.

The report also states that a quarter of young people who smoke tried their first cigarette before the age of 10.

Worldwide tobacco use among girls is increasing, it adds, with some under the mistaken belief that smoking assists with weight loss. “In fact, cigarette smoking is not associated with a lower BMI [body mass index] in young women,” it says.

Dr Mackay, one of the authors of the report for the World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society, said while Ireland and Britain were among the countries with the strongest tobacco control policies, there was no room for complacency.

“I think the message with tobacco control is that you’re never done, this epidemic is never over. You ban one form of advertising and another creeps up like smoking in the movies – paid advertising I might add, but you have to keep at it forever,” she said.

“This has to be the message for Ireland as well. You’ve done well but you cannot sit back.”

The report says young men who smoke experience higher risks of erectile dysfunction.

Ireland, which has plans in the pipeline to put picture warnings on cigarette packets, could also ban companies within the State putting up tobacco advertising on the internet, she said.