MORE people will die in 2012 from tobacco-related illness than alcohol or heroin, Fine Gael TD Derek Keating has warned.
"Ireland is now viewed by smugglers as an ideal location for their trade in comparison to the rest of Europe," Mr Keating said. "We have a major crime world here in Ireland devoted to importing illegal tobacco products, just as big, if not bigger, than heroin."
The TD said that almost every major street in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dundalk has illegal vendors supplied with cigarettes smuggled into this country by criminals operating a sophisticated distribution system.
"A major aspect to this problem is that the tobacco content is unknown and it is well know that some of the filler substance to bulk the product is more dangerous than the tobacco itself," said Mr Keating, who added that the penalties for illegal importation and sale of cigarettes are not a deterrent.
As much as 14 to 18 per cent of the 1.7 billion cigarettes smoked in Ireland last year were illegally imported. Figures show that 218 million smuggled cigarettes were seized in the past 18 months, indicating a €250m loss to the Exchequer in unpaid taxes. This does not include 120 million cigarettes seized at Greenore Port, Co Louth, the largest ever seizure in the EU.
"We need to smash the distributions system and by tackling this crime everyone will be a winner except the criminals," Mr Keating said.