Sharp rise in Irish smokers rolling their own cigarettes

False belief that ‘rollies’ are healthier alternative to pre-rolled cigarettes behind increase

An increasing number of Irish smokers are rolling their own cigarettes due to a false belief that they are “a healthier alternative” to pre-rolled products, the Health Service Executive has said.

The HSE said smoking “roll your own” tobacco increases the risks of developing serious disease.

New EU research released ahead of World No Tobacco Day shows that the proportion of people smoking in the State fell from 21 per cent to 19 per cent between 2014 and this year.

The Netherlands, the UK and Sweden were the only member states with fewer smokers than the Republic, with the EU survey highlighting that the average was 26 per cent across the union.


Research released by the HSE on Tuesday says that the proportion of smokers in the State using rolling tobacco increased from 3.5 per cent in 2003 to 24.6 per cent in 2014. The rise was particularly sharp among young people, with nearly half of those aged under 25 who smoke opting to use rolling tobacco.

Increased cancer risk

Men were more likely to smoke rolling tobacco than women and unemployed people were also more likely to roll their own cigarettes, the research found.

The HSE said that “roll your own” cigarettes put smokers at an increased risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus, mouth, pharynx and larynx.

"We suspect that price is one of the main reasons for switching to smoking roll your own products," said Martina Blake of the HSE's Tobacco Free Ireland Programme. "Roll your own tobacco is also chosen as people incorrectly perceive it to be a healthier alternative to manufactured cigarettes, carrying less risk. However, nothing could be further from the truth."

Ms Blake said roll your own tobacco was “just as harmful as smoking factory made cigarettes”.

The HSE also blamed the rise on an increase in “roll your own products” in recent years such as combination packs including tobacco, filters and papers and “roll your own versions of premium brand manufactured cigarettes.”

The Government recently introduced legislation increasing the minimum size of tobacco pouches to 30g from 12.5g with the average price of a pouch increasing from about €6 to almost €15.

EU survey

“It is envisaged that this measure will deter younger smokers because the cost per pack will be significantly higher,” a HSE spokesman said.

The EU-wide survey shows broad support in Ireland for anti-smoking laws.

Eight in 10 favour keeping tobacco products out of sight in shops while nearly three quarters support the new plain package laws introduced by the Government.

Electronic cigarettes continue to be popular in Ireland compared to other EU countries, especially as a method of quitting smoking. Nearly a fifth of Irish smokers who have tried to quit have turned to e-cigarettes.

Ireland also has one of the highest rates of advertising for e-cigarettes with nearly a fifth of those surveyed saying that they “often” see such advertisements.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times