No smoke without fire
Fionnuala Carolan underlines the importance of making your voice heard in the Department of Health's public consultation on tobacco sales
12 December 2014
The end of a year is a good time to reflect on what we have achieved over the past 12 months, what we could have done better and to begin to make some aims and objectives for the year ahead. The one thing that has hit me while reviewing the year for this issue is that there is a definite air of positivity making its way back into the sector, which is a good sign for the Christmas shopping period and our economic fortunes for 2015.
Before the year is over there are still some important issues to consider. These are the new tobacco measures proposed by the Department of Health, in order to achieve their aim of making Ireland tobacco free by 2025. The measures put forward for consultation include banning the sale of tobacco products through vending machines, banning staff under the age of 18 from selling tobacco products, on-the-spot fines for breaches of the Tobacco Act and a name and shame website for those who flout the law. The Department also wishes to shut down the existing Tobacco Retailers Register and replace it with an annual licensing system.
Obviously tobacco retailing is a fraught issue and retailers have already been subjected to considerable changes in how tobacco products can be sold in recent years. These include a blanket ban on tobacco advertising and displaying products in-store, strict penalties for selling products to those underage and the outlawing of packets of 10s.
All of these changes have profound effects on a retailer’s business. Tobacco products can make up to 40% of some newsagents’ turnover. Continual changes to the law are making it more and more difficult to keep trading this legal product. The added excise on tobacco in the recent budget is not helping people to quit smoking but just pushing consumers in the direction of the illicit trade which is in turn decreasing the amount of money going into the Exchequer.
Already one in four cigarettes consumed in Ireland avoids tax, with the Exchequer estimated to be losing €240 million annually. Steep tobacco tax increases influence consumers’ choices, leading them to buy cheap, illegal tobacco. This move is counterproductive, as the Exchequer risks losing revenue at the expense of illegal trade and criminality in local communities.
There are currently 11,500 tobacco retailers in Ireland yet retailers feel that their needs are not really being considered due to these measures proposed by the Department of Health. Retailers are wondering what use this consultation period is to them and whether their concerns are being taken into account at all. The government’s aim is to cut Irish smoking rates to below 5% of the population by 2025 as part of its Tobacco Free Ireland proposals and there is the feeling in the trade that retailers’ livelihoods are secondary to these ambitious aims.
A consultation paper setting out the details of the measures is available at http://health.gov.ie/blog/noticeboard/tobaccoconsultation2014/. The closing date for views is Friday, 16 January 2015. If you want to have your say about the future of your business, it would be advisable to get involved with this consultation and make your voice heard. The more views put forward, the more likely the Department of Health will be to take your concerns seriously and hopefully come up with some solutions that will allow retailers to continue trading this legal product in a fair manner.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year!