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Tobacco sales up as travel ban means less stocking up at airports

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Lockdown travel restrictions caused rise in tobacco sales. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Lockdown travel restrictions caused rise in tobacco sales. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Lockdown travel restrictions caused rise in tobacco sales. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Tobacco sales in Ireland rose 7.8pc last year as tobacco tourism was ended by the pandemic, retailers say.

The sharp increase in sales tallies with preliminary excise receipts for tobacco products, up approximately 6pc in 2020, Revenue said.

It’s not that more people are smoking, said Vincent Jennings, chief executive of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA), but that they can’t travel to countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania or Croatia to buy cheaper cigarettes.

“These are people who would ordinarily get their supplies from travelling abroad,” he told the Irish Independent. “We are talking about salt-of-the-earth people who are using the rules to their advantage. And why wouldn’t they?”

Annual surveys by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Health regularly show that 8-9pc of all cigarettes consumed in Ireland are purchased legitimately abroad.

That amounts to a potential tax loss of over €100m a year, Revenue estimates. Cigarette smuggling costs the Government more than €100m on top of that.

The problem is only going to get worse after Brexit, with Mr Jennings estimating that duty-free tobacco and alcohol coming from the UK could threaten 3pc of Irish sales.

Mr Jennings said there was a “significant increase” last year in sales of all tobacco products, from premium cigarettes to rolling tobacco.

But he said it jeopardises the Government’s aim to cut the number of smokers to less than 5pc of the population by 2025.

On Monday, the European Commission laid the ground for new excise rules it intends to publish at the end of the year, suggesting tobacco and alcohol tax be paid in the country in which you consume, rather th an buy, the products.

It also mooted mandatory limits on the amount of tobacco and alcohol you can bring back from abroad for personal use.

Under EU rules, you can bring back a maximum of 40 packs of c i garettes, 333 small bottles of beer, 120 bottles of wine or 14 bottles of spirits.

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The limits are only indicative, but can act as a prompt for customs officials to investigate further.

The Department of Finance said it would “engage constructively” with the European Commission on the plans.

“The Department welcomes discussions around the limits of excisable products which can be brought into the state for personal use,” a spokesperson for the Department said in a statement.

“It is important that public health policy and revenue yields are not undermined.”


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