Retailers once again the targets
The Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) chief executive Vincent Jennings, is appalled at the level of disrespect the Department of Health has shown to retailers in relation to the introduction of a new tobacco licence fee.
5 December 2013
In a summary of measures in Budget 2014, the department of health listed an increase in charge for licensing of tobacco retailers with the hope of generating €5 million. This is a measure that was not previously discussed with retailers and in fact, no consultation whatsoever occurred between the retail industry and the Department of Health on the matter. The CSNA’s view on the licence is that nothing should happen without consultation.
Lack of communication
The Department of Health has been quite discourteous to retailers. Although it is aware of how to make contact with the relevant organisations it has not engaged in any way in relation to this licence or the figure they think they can generate. What’s more, the Department of Health, which refuses to take on board retailer suggestions, should not be involved in licence and revenue decisions. It should be a matter for the Department of Finance.
"Why would you allow a department, that is ideologically and fundamentally opposed to the sale of tobacco, be in charge of licensing and setting the price?" asks Jennings. "It operates under the belief that the greatest level of pain it can extract from retailers would be good because that would further de-normalise the sale of tobacco."
The CSNA has, on numerous occasions emphasised the fact that the organisation is not against regulation. Some of the suggestions brought forward in ‘Tobacco Free Ireland’ would be considered relevant and fitting.
"There are a number of recommendations that are clear, such as only allowing those over 18 years to sell the product. I agree with that totally. It might cause difficulty in some small shops but it is an age controlled product."
In fact, the CSNA has suggested other alternatives but to no avail. "We would be of the opinion that a line should be drawn on the age limit. At the minute it is 18, in a year’s time it should be 19, the following year it will be 20 and then it will be 21. The 17-year-olds today should not be legally entitled to buy a packet of cigarettes until the age of 21. If you can stave off people from starting to buy cigarettes, you have a far better chance of them never starting. If 17-year-olds are not buying cigarettes legally now then they’re not going to miss them when they become 18, 19, 20 and society would be better off."
The Department of Health has refused to take this measure into consideration although there are other countries and states considering such a move.
Retailers being ignored
Jennings believes the lack of communication between retailers and the Deparment of Health is simply not acceptable.
"The absence of convenience store representatives being allowed to engage or being invited to engage with the Department of Health is a significant problem. I have been banging the door down looking for meetings on this matter, as others have, and there has been no give whatsoever. It is really reprehensive that any government department should choose to run the affairs of the state while ignoring genuine, legitimate and realistic requests by representatives."
As retailers play by the rules and address additional legislation, they continue to battle with the criminals selling cigarettes on the black market. Smuggled product continues to be a serious issue for law abiding retailers. Yet, while retailers continue to be the focus of all Minister Reilly’s attention, criminals get a slap on the wrist. Talk of retailers paying extortionate licence fees is unacceptable when one considers that one seller of smuggled tobacco received a fine of only €50. "We would feel that all of a sudden we are being expected to kick in amounts of money that may well be way in excess of the fines that are being accorded to some people who are smuggling products. That doesn’t seem right or fair. We are law abiding. There is a 100% compliance rate according to the Office of Tobacco Control with tobacco registration. But figures show that less than 3% of fines accorded to people for the sale of cigarettes and for smuggling were never paid. You need to have a fair system whatever you’re setting up."