The price of cigarettes should rise to €20 a packet, or €1 per cigarette, to stop a 'new generation of teenagers becoming addicted', the Irish Heart Foundation has said.
In last year’s budget, the Government increased the price of cigarettes by 50c – meaning most packets now cost €15.50.
According to the European Commission, the price of tobacco in Ireland is now the highest in the EU – but the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) thinks that price should rise even further this year.
“There’s conclusive evidence from the World Health Organisation and the World Bank that tax increases are the most effective weapon to reduce smoking and particularly to discourage young people who are more price-sensitive from starting to smoke,” Director of Advocacy and Patient Support Chris Macey told Newstalk Breakfast.
“The best example is Australia, which has the highest price of cigarettes in the world; it’s the equivalent of almost €25 and they’ve the lowest smoking rate of any OECD country.”
According to a survey by Healthy Ireland last year, 14% of the population are daily smokers and a further 4% are occasional smokers.
However, among those aged 25-34, the rate rises to 24% and Mr Macey said Ireland has “has lost its way” in the fight to reduce the rate of smoking.
“Smoking rates among teenagers are [rising] for the first time in a generation,” he said.
“The Tobacco Free Ireland policy to reduce the smoking rate to 5% by 2025 has failed - we’ve a figure of 18%, so we haven’t really come close.
“We’re in a danger of a whole new generation of children and teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine.”
Opponents of increasing the price of cigarettes argue it only leads to smuggling, as smokers buy cheaper, black market alternatives.
However, Mr Macey believes the rate of smuggling is influenced by a “lot of different things” and price is only one of those factors.
“There’s many examples of low smuggling rates in high tax countries and high smuggling in low tax countries,” he said.
“For example, in Spain a few years ago, they had a smuggling rate similar to what we have here now and there was an increase of four million to 40 million in terms of helping enforcement and measures to tackle smuggling.
“When the price of tobacco went up by 30%, the smuggling rate was reduced from 16% to 2% - so, it’s about enforcement regulation as much as anything.”
Vaping has surged in popularity in recent years with 3% of Irish people now vaping daily and 3% occasionally.
Like cigarettes, vapes contain nicotine and some people find them highly addictive.
Fianna Fáil is arguing for higher taxes on them and the Irish Heart Foundation is fully supportive of such calls.
“That’s something we have in our pre-budget submission as well and have done for several years now,” Mr Macey said.
“What we’re looking at is trying to get a tax that discourages young people without outpricing people who are genuinely using vapes to quit.
“In Finland, the rate is three times what we’re proposing.”
Budget 2024 will be held next Tuesday on October 10th.
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Main image: Lighting up a cigarette.