HIKING the price of the licence to sell tobacco products will cause widespread unemployment in the vending machine industry, campaigners have claimed.
The Irish Cigarette Machine Operators Association (ICMOA) called on members to fight the proposed jump in fees, saying it would result in job losses in family-run businesses nationwide.
Health chiefs want to increase the tobacco retail licence fee from a one-off €50 to €500 per year, per outlet.
Chairman John O'Brien said the vending industry employed 145 people and was worth more than €175m to the economy
"Our members sell a legal product within the confines of strict regulations set out by the Department of Health – if this goes ahead it will devastate our industry," he said.
Environmental health officers with the Health Services Executive (HSE) monitor the tobacco industry's compliance and enforce control legislation, including the workplace ban and restrictions surrounding the selling, advertising and marketing of tobacco products.
Mr O'Brien said his members were one-man or small family operations, providing and maintaining vending machines in more than 6,000 outlets.
"We will fight this attack on our industry," Mr O'Brien said.
"This Government is only interested in short-term gain, and they clearly haven't given much thought to the long-term livelihoods of our members.
"Our members already compete with criminals who sell illegal tobacco in pubs and clubs across the country. These people don't pay taxes and now the Government wants to hand them a bonus."