Cigarette sales fall as smokers cut back
SALES of cigarettes have slumped yet again, with experts pointing to a rise in smuggling and smokers puffing less.
Figures from Revenue showed that excise was paid on just more than 4.1 billion cigarettes in Ireland last year, down by more than 10pc from a year earlier.
Sales quantities have been on a continuous downward trend for the past five years and are now down by a quarter from 2006. However, rises in duty on cigarettes have ensured that the revenue earned for the Exchequer is still on a par with five years ago at €1.1bn.
The one area that has seen an increase in demand in recent years is rolling tobacco, sales of which have soared during the recession.
It is often seen as more cost-effective than cigarettes, although anti-smoking campaigners claim it is actually similar in price per gram to cigarettes.
Consumption of rolling tobacco jumped by almost 60pc between 2008 and 2009 from 128 tonnes to almost 220 tonnes. While there was a slight drop in consumption last year, sales are still running at record highs with excise paid on 215 tonnes.
Professor Luke Clancy, director general of the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society, said a number of factors were at play for the fall in cigarette sales and that it appeared smokers were cutting back, although not quitting in any great numbers.
"While price does help some people to stop, it is more likely to get people to reduce their cigarettes.
"They are not as affordable now so people are smoking fewer," he explained.
Prof Clancy said emigration of young people aged between 20 and 40 years, who had the highest prevalence of smoking, was also a factor, as was the departure of many European migrant workers who tended to be heavier smokers.
He said there was no evidence that sales were down due to an increase in smuggling and that a bigger loss to the State in terms of revenue was actually from people buying cigarettes elsewhere in Europe and legally bringing them back to Ireland.
He estimated that 14pc of cigarettes smoked in Ireland were bought in other EU countries, whereas smuggled cigarettes accounted for between 2pc and 4pc.
"This is a bigger loss of revenue than smuggling, yet it doesn't seem to be tackled. This needs to be tackled at EU level.
"A person can be paying tax at home and still paying €3 or €4 for a pack and then bring them to Ireland where they can afford to smoke them in high numbers or sell them on to others," he added.
However, lobby group Retailers Against Smuggling claimed that more smokers were turning to smuggled cigarettes.
"There is less money in people's pockets and if they see an option to save some money, they will do that," said spokesman William Hanley.
"Illegal cigarettes are not seen as something that is hurting anyone . . . it's seen as getting one up on the Government."
However, he said a recent survey of members of his group, carried out in the 12 months to last October, found that 700 retail workers were laid off as a direct result of the drop in cigarette sales.