THE Irish Heart Foundation is urging the government to increase the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes to €20 by 2025.
In the charity's pre-budget submission, it said that a dual approach is needed to tackle the public health problems caused by smoking, with a major hike of the current €13 price coupled with a €50 million per annum budget for help to quit services.
They the rate of the population that smokes has gone down in recent years, the foundation says that 20% of over-16s still smoke, well above the government's goal of 5% by 2025.
Head of advocacy Chris Macey said that radical action is needed to bring the rate down further.
"The number of current smokers in Ireland has fallen by 80,000 in the last three years, which represents good progress, but to achieve a tobacco-free Ireland we need further reductions of around 100,000 smokers each year for the next six years.
“Evidence shows that tax increases are the most effective way of reducing smoking rates. A dual approach that combines this with improved support for the vast majority of smokers who want to quit is vital if the Government is serious about hitting this target.
"With a packet of 20 cigarettes in the most popular price category currently costing €13, it would require a pro-rata increase of just under €1.17 per pack for each of the next six Budgets for the price to reach €20, ignoring any additional increases imposed by the tobacco industry," he said.
“The rationale for significant increases in tobacco tax in successive Budgets has been as a health measure to reduce smoking rates, not to raise more revenue. If this really is the case Government policy must set the tax at the rate that derives the greatest health, not the greatest income benefit and that requires a high annual tax escalator” Mr Macey added.
He said that money must also be spent funding services which help smokers quit, including medications, smoking cessation services, the national Quitline, and mass media campaigns.
Currently, the State spends just €11.8 million a year on these services, but the Irish Heart Foundation wants to see that grow by almost €40 million.
In addition to the potential to reduce the toll of 16 deaths every day from tobacco-related illness in Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation is arguing that there is a strong economic case for greater investment in quit services, particularly by reducing the rate of 31,500 smokers who are admitted to hospital each year with tobacco-related illness.
“There is conclusive evidence that ad campaigns and support services, such as cessation clinics, quitlines and medications can significantly increase a smoker’s motivation to quit and then their chances of kicking the habit for good."
“With our hospitals in crisis and tobacco-related illness also accounting for over 116,000 hospital outpatient appointments, 38,000 emergency department attendances and 19,000 hospital day case appointments the case for investment in these services could hardly be clearer.
“It makes absolutely no sense that rather than helping smokers to quit, it’s only after they have a stroke, a heart attack, develop cancer or another serious illness that the State becomes involved in assisting them.
In addition to further proposals on roll your own tobacco and greater staffing and resources for Revenue in tackling tobacco smuggling, the Irish Heart Foundation is seeking a range of measures to tackle child obesity and to improve cardiac and stroke services in its pre-Budget submission," said Mr Macey.