We should raise cigarette prices every year, says Health Minister

Health Minister James Reilly has revealed he wants to hike the cost of tobacco in the budget – and in every budget for the remainder of the Government.

Announcing further plans for a tobacco free Ireland by 2025, the Minister said he faces a tough challenge in having to make spending cuts across his department, but insisted he is focused on tackling smoking.

“I would love to see a situation where we give a clear indication that there is going to be substantial rises in the cost of tobacco every single year for the remainder of this Government,” Dr Reilly said.

“So the people know this is just going to get more and more expensive, because they are cost-sensitive.”

As the budget looms, the minister dismissed reports he will be forced to go head-to-head with Social Protection Minister Joan Burton in a battle over which department bears the biggest brunt of the cuts.

Launching a campaign to make Ireland tobacco-free by 2025, the health minister compared the introduction of new laws demanding that all tobacco products are sold in plain packaging to the Budget.

He said tobacco companies would react to the legislation by finding loopholes - in the same way accountants try to get around new tax implications.

“The big thing here is to bring in the standardised packaging,” Dr Reilly said.

“They will continue to develop new methodologies of trying to make their product attractive to children and we will continue to bring in new laws to cut them off each time.

“You can’t have a situation develop where we say we have to anticipate every single possible loophole that comes along.

“We all know that immediately the day after the budget comes out, accountants around Ireland put their heads together to find the best way to deal with the tax implications. That’s what will happen here.”

But he insisted he would fight “the scourge” of smoking, which he claimed kills 5,200 people in Ireland every year.

Dr Reilly, whose father and brother died from smoking-related illnesses, said educating children about the dangers of tobacco was one of the key ways to stamp out the habit over the next 12 years.

His campaign – Tobacco Free Ireland – aims to have less than 5% of the population smoking by 2025.

Ireland’s smoking population is currently 29% – well above the average among OECD countries at 21%.

Dr Reilly has been touched personally by the suffering caused by smoking after his brother died of lung cancer and his father went blind following a stroke.

Both were smokers and, like Dr Reilly, both were doctors.

“There is nothing cool about losing a foot, there is nothing cool about having your lung cut out and there is nothing cool about having a stroke and being left paralysed for the last 14 years of your life,” Dr Reilly said.

The Minister has vowed to win the war against the tobacco industry as he moves to enforce the standardised packaging of cigarettes.

Dr Reilly said he wants cigarette firms to try to defend themselves at the Oireachtas Health Committee, which will receive the heads of bill for the new law shortly.

Ireland aims to become the second country in the world to force tobacco manufacturers to use unbranded boxes emblazoned with graphic images of the effects of smoking.

Dr Reilly said the law is on target to be enforced by mid-2014 following ”robust debates” between committee members and campaigners.

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