Cigarette vending machines will be banned in Ireland as part of the government’s attempt to create “a tobacco-free Ireland” by 2015, according to the Irish Times.
The legislation was agreed by cabinet yesterday. It follows news earlier this month that the government’s rush to force tobacco companies to use plain packaging on cigarettes will come to nothing for at least three years, if ever, because it must be referred to the European Commission before it can become law.
Despite this setback, health minister Dr James Reilly plans to outlaw 7,000 cigarette vending machines which, he says, give easy access to minors to tobacco. Legislation will also ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and impose stricter penalties on retailers who get caught selling to underage customers.
Retailers for the first time will also have to pay for a license to sell tobacco.
The government hopes the license will raise €5m (£4m) and also discourage some retailers from stocking cigarettes altogether.
The announcement of the policy came just hours before revenue authorities seized 32m cigarettes worth €14m (£11.2m) in County Louth, north of Dublin, early today.
According to the Irish Independent, the cache represents the largest seizure of cigarettes in Europe so far this year. The seizure was targeted at an international organised crime group thought to be headed by Irish and British nationals.
The smuggling attempt is part of an international epidemic of bootleg tobacco driven by government increases in tax on cigarettes meant to discourage smoking. Instead, smokers who want to avoid the high prices are turning to illegal street vendors and other sources of untaxed illegal tobacco.
According to the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee, 28.3 per cent of all tobacco in the country is sold without tax being paid.
The seizure this morning of the 32m cigarettes in Ireland represented a potential loss to the exchequer of €13m (£10.4m). The finance minister said the seizure was “a significant blow to the criminals involved in this illicit trade.”
However the activities of organised crime in tobacco smuggling may become easier if the government does finally succeed in forcing tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packs with no branding and no logos. One Irish tobacco industry representative said that plain packaging would pay into the hands of criminal gangs “who profit from counterfeit tobacco.” The criminals’ job will be significantly easier if “all tobacco products are intended to be sold in the same generic packaging.”