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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 20 October, 2014

Conference calls for tobacco tax hikes across Europe

A three-day international summit gets underway in Dublin this morning.

Image: ORLIN WAGNER/AP/Press Association Images

A MAJOR INTERNATIONAL conference is in Dublin today calling on European governments to impose even bigger taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Hosted by the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society, the European Smoke Free Partnership is pushing for tobacco taxes to be used as the “chief weapon” in reducing smoking rates.

The TobTaxy workshop aims to gather a “powerful group of NGOs and senior public servants” to advocate for such taxes which its proponents believe will reduce the huge death toll and chronic illness caused by smoking.

International evidence proves that tobacco tax increases are the most effective method of reducing smoking rates, said Michael O’Shea, chief executive of the Irish Heart Foundation.

The charity’s own research shows that a €1 increase in tax on a 20-pack of cigarettes could result in some 30,000 people quitting smoking in Ireland. This would result in 15,000 fewer deaths, it said.

About 5,700 people die every year from smoking.

We have a crazy situation where the Department of Finance decides tax policy purely from a revenue-raising standpoint ignoring the health cost – which at €14.7 billion over the next 10 years is far less than the €23 billion associated with the cost of treating smoking related illness.

Irish Cancer Society CEO John McCormack also argued that it is crucial tobacco tax is seen primarily as a public health issue.

Our current tax-take does not pay for the healthcare costs associated with smoking yet the tobacco industry continues to make healthy profits. Only 78 per cent of the price of cigarettes goes to Government, the remaining 22 per cent is pure profit for tobacco companies. This is a situation that is unique to Ireland. In the UK, the Government takes 90 per cent of the price of cigarettes so the profit margin for the tobacco industry is smaller.

The link between tax increases and smuggling rates, which is propagated by the tobacco industry, will also be discussed throughout the summit.

Both the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Health Foundation believe the link to be tenuous – or false.

“We need to increase the tax Government places on cigarettes and if the tobacco industry seriously thinks that this will increase black market sales then they can always reduce their profit margin to keep price lower,” said McCormack.

A government order to the tobacco industry to make some contribution to the costs they impose on the Irish health service has also been suggested.

The Irish Cancer Society said a study has showed the imposition of a special rate of 25 per cent corporation tax on profits in Ireland is feasible.

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