A new Euromonitor International report on smoking in Ireland is a cause for celebration. Cigarette sales have fallen by nearly a quarter in the last five years. There are a few valuable, encouraging lessons in this.
The report shows that contested public policy takes a long time to achieve its objectives — it’s 15 years since we introduced anti-smoking, pro-health legislation.
The report also shows how powerful tobacco/nicotine
addiction really is. Despite using tax— 79% of the retail price — to push the price of a pack of 20 to around €13.00, almost one in five people still smoke. A 20-a-day habit costs almost €5,000 a year, after tax, making cigarettes in Ireland the most expensive in the EU.
The most important lesson, one that seems to have a growing relevance in many other settings, is that even the most powerful commercial lobbies cannot withstand a determined government. It may be that the Irish market is, or was, so small in global terms that tobacco companies eventually decided to decamp and concentrate on less restricted markets.
However, constantly falling smoking numbers show that David can defeat Goliath. The EU’s role in supporting Ireland’s decision to ban smoking in public spaces, despite the tobacco industry’s multi-million sabre-rattling, should not be forgotten, either. These figures will continue to fall, especially as smokers die off, many prematurely. Sad, but true.