Monday, August 17, 2009

Irish smoking ban after its 5th birthday

smoking THE IRISH ban on smoking in workplaces celebrated its 5th birthday on the 29th March 2009.

Ireland was one of the first countries to introduce such an initiative and there have been many imitators since, across the world, some at city and state level. This initiative was probably one of the most visionary that has come out of our political enterprise for some time. The person who pioneered it was Micheál Martin TD, then Minister for Health and Children. It represented a massive cultural change for our fairly conservative, habit-prone society.

The achievement of change generally is extraordinarily difficult and rarely embraced, except as a last resort to survival in any context. But this particular change was embraced by society and consistently achieves a much higher level of compliance than, say, not driving in bus lanes at times they are confined to public service vehicles. I saw it as a being more far-reaching that the avoidance of health impairment – more of a refinement of the national self-image of a maturing, outward-looking nation.

Impact of smoking ban

The publicans fought the smoking ban very vigorously. There were 9,964 licensed pubs in Ireland in 2004. There were 8,867 last year, a reduction of 11%. I argued then in a letter to The Irish Times that the smoking ban does not uniquely determine if a customer goes to a pub, or not and I continue to believe this to be the case.

But there has been a 7% drop in the number of cigarettes purchased in this country from 5.33 billion in 2004 to 4.94 billion cigarettes in 2008.

OTC (Office of Tobacco Control) research into smoking patterns reveals that 22.8% of women and 24.3% of men smoke. The heaviest concentration of smokers are in the less prosperous C2 and DE social cohort compared.

When the smoking ban legislation was being formulated the licensed vintners disputed the accuracy of the suggestion that 7,500 deaths per annum are attributable to smoking. The Office of Tobacco Control, in its 2008 Annual Report, states that over 6,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses now. If this is an improvement it must be welcomed.

However, researchers’ seem generally more comfortable when it is rationalising percentages rather than absolute numbers. But sometimes hard numbers make a stark impact. 


Ireland’s smoking population

There are about 630,000 smokers in Ireland.  The following table summarises the population of Ireland and derives from that the number who smoke at different age ranges:


Age Range

Total Population,

% population
who smoke

Number of people who smoke

15 – 24




25 – 34




25 – 44




45 – 54




55 – 64











  Source: CSO and OTC

Scale of the smoking habit

Data from the Revenue Commissioners on the background to the tax component of cigarettes indicates that they are a nice little earner for the Exchequer. The tax take last year on cigarettes was €1,131,532,463, an increase of 10.4% since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004. Approximately 80% of the retail price of a 20-pack of cigarettes in Ireland represents excise duty and VAT.  The excise component is currently €175.30 per 1,000 cigarettes, and VAT is charged at 18.28% of the retail price. Excise duty from tobacco accounted for 20% of all excise duty raised in 2008.  It will be interesting to see how elastic the demand for tobacco proves to be this year.  Excise duty at the end of July was down 21% on the corresponding July 2008 figure but much of this is accounted for by a 65%+ decline in new car sales. Tobacco, from an Exchequer perspective may prove to be a more steady source of revenue.

Our 630,000 smoker burnt 247,028,350 20-packs of cigarettes in 2008 (excluding cigarettes that are smuggled in substantial volume, or brought  into the country as legitimate personal baggage). 

Apart from cigarettes, Irish smokers also burnt 44,290 kilograms of cigars and 154,473 kilograms of other tobacco products.

On a positive note, there has been a significant contraction in smoking here since 2002 – by almost 30% in the case of cigarettes and by 31% in the case of other tobacco products since 2001.

Fatal consequences of smoking

A total of 27,705 persons died in Ireland last year. One out of every 126 persons. If, say, 6,000 deaths are attributable to smoking-related causes this would mean that one out of every 104 persons die as a direct consequence.

While just 18% of the Irish population smoke cigarettes those who smoke are typically fairly heavy smokers. They smoke an average of over 20 cigarettes per day – so those who smoke are not casual or intermittent smokers.

Apart from the unique initiative that the smoking ban is, given the cultural dimension, other initiatives have been taken to discourage smoking and especially smoking by young people. The Public Health (Tobacco) Acts 2002 outlawed in-store tobacco advertising and displays. This is in recognition that the vast majority of Irish smokers commence at a young age. My own cigarette smoking career began at the age of nine and ended when I was 21, having seen both parents die prematurely as a consequence of cigarette smoking.

The Irish cigarette market is dominated by three distribution companies – Player, Carroll and Gallaher. The value of the market to them is €282 million when the tax element is eliminated. Player account for €104 million; Carroll account for €38 million and Gallaher account for the lion’s share, €140 million.

Each traces it history to the first half of the 18th century.  The largest, Gallaher, now part of Japan Tobacco, was founded in Derry in 1957 by Tom Gallaher.  P J Carroll founded his firm in Dundalk in 1824 and it is now part of British American TobaccoImperial Tobacco is the home of John Player & Sons which first saw the dawn of day in Nottingham in the mid 18th century.


Five most popular brands

The five most popular brands have a combined market share of 65.5%, according to data from the Office of Tobacco Control.

Brand Market share % male smokers % female smokers
Benson & Hedges 17.37% 58.93% 41.07%
John Player Blue 16.70% 55.74% 44.26%
Silk Cut Purple 13.43% 35.83% 64.17%
Marlboro Gold 11.08% 50.05% 49.95%
Silk Cut Blue 6.98 31.70% 68.30%








Final Consequences

As I mentioned 27,705 persons departed this mortal coil last year and 61% of them managed to celebrate their 75th birthday!



Total deaths in Ireland 2007

% who die at each age range

15 to 24 Years



25 to 34 Years



35 to 44 Years



45 to 54 Years



55 to 64 Years



65 to 74 Years



75 Years and Over






 Source CSO

The average cost of a funeral in Ireland is said by the Irish Association of Funeral Directors to be €4,500. This means they have a market worth €125 million per annum if the bury 27.705 deceased persons.

Those who die from smoking-related causes account for €27 million of this but they don’t have to make this expenditure as quickly as others if they have the foresight to realise that they have an infinite range of choices as to how they spend the money they avoid spending as personal slave of the tobacco companies.

While I stopped smoking cigarettes at the age of 21, a very long time ago, it was 15 years ago that I last smoked a cigar. I tried for a long time beforehand to convince myself that I would only smoke when I was having a drink but that, of course, was a fiction.

I still experience a sense of accomplishment at not being enslaved to the chronic habit that smoking is. It is an experience that inspires a sense of freedom and wellbeing. I never take it for granted. There is no half-way house and it is easy for a smoker to relapse. I did it many times. But when I finally stopped smoking on New Years Eve 1994 I promised myself that I never again wanted to experience the nausea and dizziness that overwhelms one after taking that first cigar, or cigarette. My advice is ‘read my lips’ and cherish that freedom!

No comments:

Post a Comment