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Cigarettes to rise by 50 cent to €11 for packet of 20

Kenny moves to implement measure to help ‘us achieve a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025’

Budget 2017: Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the downward trend in smoking was positive but there was a particular propensity among young girls to take up smoking. Photograph: The Irish Times

The price of a packet of 20 cigarettes goes up by 50 cent to €11 at midnight without a vote along with similar increases in other tobacco products.

Sinn Féin and the AAA-PBP opposed the increase but did not push the motion to a vote.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny who moved the motion to increase the price of cigarettes said the tax increase was a key public health measure to continue a downward trend in smoking rates “to help us achieve a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the downward trend in smoking was positive but there was a particular propensity among young girls to take up smoking.

He pointed out €8.87 of the €11 on a 20 pack of cigarettes was tax and there was a need to ring-fence a certain amount of the revenue raised for health initiatives.

The Cork TD said that when talking about smoking they should widen the debate to health in general and alcohol obesity and drugs.

AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry said they opposed the motion. Tobacco products are harmful, damaging and they kill, but he said that for some people there was a “price inelasticity” and would not stop them buying tobacco because they were addicted.

He pointed out that between 2011 and 2015 the State generated €5.4 billion in tobacco taxes but only €33.7 million was used for smoking cessation programmes.

“Is it more about a revenue grab by the State than a health measure,” asked Mr Barry.

And he warned of the impact of prices increases on the black market. In 2007 it was estimated that 6.7 per cent of tobacco products were purchased on the black market, but this rose to 19.8 per cent by 2009 and to 23 per cent by 2014.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy supported the motion. But referring to the Irish Heart Foundation’s belief that anti-smoking programmes should be community based, she said there had to be a public health component and not just a revenue raising exercise. She pointed to the evidence that where a constant increase was expected in the price of cigarettes, it acted as a deterrent.

Tax issue

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh opposed the increase. He said his party was in favour of a health policy to cut smoking but there was nothing in the move to advance health policy. It was merely a tax issue to increase exchequer funding.

Maureen O’Sullivan opposed the increase because this money was not going directly to health initiatives. The black market cigarettes would cost €4 or €5 as opposed to €11 in a retail shop, she said.

She had had several meetings with retailers against smuggling and she said that in the illicit trade a person did not know the content of those cigarettes.

Independent TD and GP Michael Harty described smoking as “probably one of the most destructive engagements that you can take up”.

“It amazes me actually the number of people in this House who smoke.”

He said the price should have gone up by €1 and a further 50 cent taken off the price of prescriptions, which will go down by €5 to €20. And he expressed his disappointment that there was no increase in the price of alcohol.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the Revenue Commissioners had stated that increasing the price of cigarettes could result in €65 million in additional income to the exchequer but they also said there could be a loss of €44 million.

He said if any party put forward a policy that could have such a variety in its revenue outcome it would be refused outright.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath supported the tax increase. “It saddens me to think that after several increases in a number of budgets smoking still hasn’t abated.”

He said there must be greater awareness campaigns which should focus greatly on national schools.