Illegal tobacco figures rejected

The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee (ITMAC) claims that 27.9% of tobacco in Cork is illegal (Irish Examiner, April 1). The Revenue Commissioners provide data on tobacco smuggling.

Illegal tobacco figures rejected

Their latest statistics show illegal tobacco makes up 13% of all cigarettes in Ireland — a big difference from the claims of the tobacco industry.

The tobacco industry has a clear conflict of interest in supplying data about tobacco smuggling.

Some 5,200 people die from tobacco each year in Ireland yet ITMAC members need to maintain profits and to do so must recruit 50 new smokers a day in this country to replace those who quit or die.

The arguments from ITMAC are nothing new.

Raising fears about tobacco smuggling enables them to argue against two of the most powerful levers to reduce smoking levels — increasing tobacco taxation and the introduction of the plain packaging of cigarettes.

Firstly, while price places a role in making a country potentially profitable for smugglers, the primary incentive is the level of detection and enforcement.

In the UK, where prices are now higher than in Ireland, the rate of illicit tobacco has fallen from 21% in 2001 to 9% in 2011.

We welcome the drafting of an updated Strategy on Combatting Illicit Tobacco by the Revenue Commissioners, which will be published shortly.

While ITMAC bemoan the increased taxation on cigarettes, they fail to mention that tobacco companies consistently and cynically raise the price of cigarettes in Ireland themselves.

Secondly, the argument that the plain packaging of cigarettes will increase the rate of illegal tobacco has already been rubbished by the two organisations whose job it is to detect smuggling — the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda — in evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

Plain packaging will decrease the appeal of cigarettes to children and encourage current smokers to quit. Why else would the industry be investing so much time, effort and money in opposing its introduction?

The Irish Cancer Society advises your readers that statistics from the tobacco industry should come with a major warning. From experience, the last thing that they are concerned about is the nation’s public health.

Kathleen O’Meara

Head of Advocacy & Communications Irish Cancer Society

Northumberland Rd

Dublin 4

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