Government 'complacent' over cigarette smuggling


Anti-tobacco groups have accused the Government of complacency over the use of children by organised crime gangs to smuggle cigarettes into Ireland.

Ash, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation said they were shocked and outraged at the investigation aired this week by RTE's Prime Time, which found children as young as 14 were being used to sell illegal and counterfeit cigarettes around the country.

The investigation found that the smuggled cigarettes were on sale openly in casual markets and estimated that each carton of 200 sold on the black market represented a loss of about €65 to the exchequer.

“In the Dáil yesterday, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan appears to have ruled out a tobacco price increase in the forthcoming Budget even though it would yield an estimated a badly needed €420 million to the Exchequer, without any significant impact on inflation. Instead the Minister, in a letter to us, has cited the excuse of smuggling as a reason not to increase tax on tobacco, even though there is compelling evidence to show that such an increase would deter young people from starting and encourage smokers to quit,” said Irish Cancer Society chief executive John McCormack.

The ICS said it was shocked by the Government's attitude to what it described as "a major public health issue". There are an estimated 7,000 deaths every year related to tobacco, with 1,700 people dying from lung cancer.

Chief executive of the Irish Heart Foundation Michael O’Shea said the organisation was angered by the Government’s "apparent inability" to control the smuggling of illicit tobacco products into Ireland.

"The failure by government to tackle the growth in smuggling is not a good enough reason not to protect the health of our children from cigarette smoking. This is a national disgrace," he said.

“It is not acceptable to let criminal activity dictate social measures to protect the health of our children and young people. It is not acceptable to say there will be no increase in tobacco prices – a proven deterrent to new and existing smokers – because smuggling will increase."

He called for the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to increase resources to deter smugglers through measures such as increased penalties and prosecutions.