Government urged to stub out tobacco 'combi-packs' aimed at young
Health Minister Simon Harris has been urged to ban so-called "combi-packs" of roll-your-own tobacco and cigarette papers.
Anti-cancer and smoking campaigners argue that the convenience packs especially target poor and young people, luring them into smoking. The combi-packs are condemned by the campaigners as "alco-pops of tobacco" and a "cynical device to make more money for big tobacco companies".
The crackdown calls come amid new data which has shown an increase in the use of roll-your-own tobacco after persistent tax increases on conventional or ready-made cigarettes. EU statistics show fewer than one in five Irish people now smoke, against an average of more than one in four across the 28 member states.
But there has been a marked increase in the use of 'roll-your-own' tobacco - up from 3.5pc in 2003 to almost 25pc in 2014. There is evidence this is especially prevalent among young people and people in poorer areas.
Now the spotlight has fallen on combi-packs. The Health Minister is being urged to make it an offence to produce or sell cigarette papers and/or filters with loose rolling tobacco in a one unit pouch or box.
Long-time anti-smoking campaigner Professor Luke Clancy said the Government must deal with the entire issue of roll-ups if it is ever to achieve its stated aim of a "smoker-free Ireland by 2025". In practice, this means getting the number of smokers below 5pc, down from the current level of 19pc.
Dr Clancy said all the experience showed a need for further tax increases to deal with the differential between loose tobacco and cigarettes. But he also singled out the combi-packs for special attention.
Prof Clancy said quantitative research showed better-off and better educated smokers were not fans of the combi-packs. But these packs were popular with poorer and less educated people living in disadvantaged areas. "I think these kits are just a cynical device by the tobacco companies to make more money," Dr Clancy told the Irish Independent.
An Irish Cancer Society spokesman said taxation policies had been shown as effective in reducing rates of smoking - but roll-ups now required attention and especially combi-packs. "There is clear evidence that these packets are targeting young people and people living in disadvantaged areas," the Irish Cancer Society spokesman said.
A Healthy Ireland report has also reported a higher level of hand-rolled cigarette smoking among 15 to 34-year-olds. Campaigners insist it's clear that young people are being targeted with combi-packs as DIY starter packs. Research shows that 78pc of smokers start before the age of 18.
The Health Minister is being urged to use the Public Health Tobacco Act to see if he has the power to ban combi-packs.