Senator calls for 99% tax on tobacco profits amid legal threat

A leading oncologist and Senator has called for a 99% tax on the profits of tobacco companies - if they pursue their threats of legal action against the State.

It comes after new figures showed the number of people who smoke in Ireland fell by 70,000 last year.

According to the HSE, the rate is down to less than one in five people over 15 years old, down from 21.5% in 2013.

Professor John Crown has welcomed the news, and said the Government should do more to challenge the tobacco industry.

Commenting on yesterday's announcement that one of the country's largest tobacco firms, JTI Ireland, threatened to sue the state over the introduction of plain packaging, Senator Crown said the Government should fight back.

"We should retaliate ... the Government should consider some kind of measured response, that if this goes to court they should consider truly punitive taxes on tobacco company profits," he said.

"Perhaps something like a 99% tax on the profits of tobacco companies, or perhaps something like putting a €1,000 a pack tax on a pack of cigarettes – if the industry tries these kind of antics with us."

Speaking after the cabinet discussed the introduction of plain packaging yesterday, Minister James Reilly - who put forward the plans during his time as Minister for Health - said he would not give in to pressure.

"I need to be temperate in my language. I'll merely say this - the Irish government will always put the health of its citizens first, and it does so in this case too, without fear or favour from any external force - be that a multinational tobacco industry or other," he said.

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