Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Irish got it wrong again

First of all, as the Chief Medical Officer will confirm, the smoking rate is as high in Ireland as it was in 2004 when the smoking ban came in. All the years of losses to the hospitality trade have succeeded only in moving secondary smoke exposure to the domestic sphere – it's got to be happening somewhere!

Second, according to a report commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Government has mistakenly frozen the duty on tobacco for the last two years in the belief that raising revenue would drive customers to the hands of illegal sellers. They claim as evidence a 9 per cent rise in tobacco revenue in 1995-2005 at a time when tax on tobacco rose by 11 per cent. It seems a bit odd that the Irish Heart Foundation should be complaining of lost earnings to the Treasury from tobacco revenue resulted from this ill-advised failure to raise duty, but they also claim that a rise in duty of one euro per 20 cigarettes would lead to 30,000 ceasing to smoke. The result: loads of extra money and huge savings in health costs and benefits.

So will the Irish compound their error by increasing the price of tobacco until it's about four times the level it is in, say, Hungary? Who knows?

The Irish Heart Foundation actually commissioned this study specifically to challenge the Irish Revenue Commissioners' conclusions that only smugglers would benefit from an increase in tobacco duty. How the report calculates the price elasticity of tobacco with the result that a jump in price will lead to 4 per cent of smokers giving up is beyond me. I am too stupid even to understand how or if they even attempt to take illegal tobacco sales into account.  Unemployment is approaching 15 per cent in Ireland and raising the taxation on what is already overpriced is in my view very likely to encourage people to economise by buying legitimately elsewhere without the Irish Exchequer making any gains, or to buy illegally.

Studies, by the way, are a weapon to be produced when countries rebel against tobacco control. Last year the Dutch lifted smoking bans on unstaffed bars (because there were no staff at risk of secondary smoke exposure). Last month, from an EU-funded tobacco control project, came this lengthy chastisement of the Dutch government for failing to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, cutting smoking cessation funding, not using graphic images ... and here's the rub, shortening the lives of 145,000 over the next 30 years. The study in question uses a model to calculate the lives that would be saved by increasing taxation on tobacco and by funding smoking cessation services.

Calculations like these make the practice of threading a camel through the eye of a needle look like a fruitful and meaningful exercise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How the report calculates the price elasticity is beyond me also. There is a lack of data. When in modern times has there been a smoking ban in all non residential buildings, large tobacco tax increases, open borders between European countries, a lack of guilt among the normally law-abiding middle classes about buying smuggled tobacco, on-line ordering of goods, a growing contempt for politicians, their reliance on fraudulent "evidence" etc...etc?