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Financial Resolution No. 1: Tobacco Products Tax (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien] I believe the Minister's figures are dishonest regarding what is being proposed today. The Minister says it will bring in €64 million but according to the Revenue Commissioners it is as likely to cost the State €40 million because the more that is charged, the smaller the number of people who will smoke. That is a positive and progressive policy, but the Minister's figures are a little dishonest. In our budget submission we put it down as cost neutral. We support the policy direction in that anything that reduces the number of people who are smoking is to be welcomed, but the Minister's figures are dishonest regarding what will be the potential revenue as a result of this.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I support the resolution without question. I wish to speak briefly on the issue of smoking cessation and public health policy in that regard, particularly with regard to the cost of nicotine replacement therapies. In his annual consideration of matters relating to the rates of tax on tobacco products, will the Minister give consideration to the cost of nicotine replacement therapies? There is a myriad of products sold in pharmacies at exorbitant prices. I do not know if the pharmacies are price takers from the pharmaceutical sector in this regard but the products available are extremely costly. It has been argued that one is replacing one addiction with another. I ask the Government to consider further examination of the sheer cost people incur when they are trying to give up smoking by moving to nicotine replacement therapies. The cost of those therapies should be examined as a matter of urgency.

Deputy Declan Breathnach: Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach If it were many years ago Members from Dundalk would be shouting from the rooftops at increases in tobacco prices. We must support this resolution on the basis of health but heavy smokers will obviously bear the brunt of it. I agree with Deputy Calleary on the need to strengthen revenue in the face of tobacco smuggling and the illicit trade that will no doubt occur as a result of a further increase in the price of tobacco. I am from an area where the largest seizures in the illicit trade in tobacco in this country have occurred. I am aware of the major efforts being made by retailers against smuggling and in trying to get a balance between price and ensuring that their trade continues to exist. They will certainly be perturbed at the rise in the price, but we are all aware of the reasons for it. I echo the comments on the health aspects and I draw the Minister's attention to the practice of vaping. The jury is out on that but obviously that must be explored from a health point of view.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett We have traditionally opposed the increase in the duty on cigarettes. I wish to stress that this is not because we do not think it is important to reduce the level of smoking, because that is extremely important, but because we remain to be convinced that price increases are the major reason there is some reduction in the smoking level. They have some impact but I do not believe they are the main reason. Frankly, better education of young people on the health aspects has had far more impact. I welcome the more graphic health warnings on the packaging, which removes the glamour that was associated with smoking in the past. The fact that there is no longer advertising of tobacco products has contributed very significantly. Again, that removes the glamour associated with smoking in the past. All of that has probably contributed more.

However, for those who are victims of the past promotion of smoking and who developed addiction, this will be an excessive financial burden that will more than wipe out the small increases in social welfare or the small reductions in tax of approximately €5 per week. The increases will be wiped out for people who are addicted to a toxic substance. They will lose out as a result. Those people need help and support in ending their addiction, but I do not believe that many lifelong smokers will give up smoking as a result of this. However, they will be impacted by the extra financial burden. We will not call a vote on this but we wish to signal, as we have in the past, that we believe this is not the way to proceed.

I wish to add a final point which is relevant not just to cigarettes but also to sugar consumption and other products where one could argue there is a health case for reduced use. We would be far better off imposing levies on the profits of the alcohol, sugar or tobacco industries and using that money to increase expenditure on health, particularly in the areas where the costs to the health service are increasing as a result of smoking, obesity or the negative health impacts of alcohol. We should go for the profits of the companies that profit from this rather than the consumers.

We wish to indicate our opposition to this measure but we will not force the House to divide on it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am glad to speak on this resolution and I will support it. I realise it is difficult for people who need the fix of a cigarette and are addicted to smoking. I do not know how they manage given the current price of cigarettes. At some stage we will have to examine this because it will not continue to be an easy touch to get money from this area. Cigarettes will reach a price where people will not be able to afford them. It is important to cut down on the rate of tobacco consumption, but we cannot keep piling tax onto some unfortunate families where perhaps two in the family smoke. I do not know how they can afford it. I have supported this course in previous budgets so I will do so now, but it will reach a stage where it will have to be capped. We cannot just continue to hit it. There have been changes to the packaging and so forth in an attempt to make people safer and we always thought that the price would do that, but it has not had the impact we thought it would have. We have to examine the deeper reasons that people have such a longing and need. In this case, however, I support the resolution.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan As a reformed smoker, I probably should comment on this resolution. Smoking has been proved beyond doubt to be bad for people's health. The evidence has been there for a long time. I do not agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that we should go after the producers. There would be no need to produce if there were no consumers. Consumers, unfortunately, become the victims in two ways, for reasons of their own health. I often ask myself why I stopped smoking. I do not know the reason, and I smoked for 27 years. However, in the world in which we live there is far more information and education available to explain the reasons people should not smoke or not smoke in families or in front of children. I support the resolution. It is important that we are constant and that we have a single, consistent voice to indicate to all and sundry that smoking is not good for our health, we should not do it and we should try our best to stop it.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae I cannot support this increase in the price of cigarettes.

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