I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter. In view of the cost of not dealing with the smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco products, it is important that we take it seriously. When I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, we published an important report on the tobacco industry. It was clear from the research we had done that tobacco was causing many thousands of deaths in Ireland due to both smoking and passive smoking. If there was this number of deaths as a result of road crashes or something else visible, we would be dealing with the matter much more seriously. Because people are dying of cancer and other factors may be assumed, the effect of tobacco may not be clearly seen, but medical evidence suggests smoking is a key problem in terms of the numbers who are dying, directly and indirectly, due to it. That is why one of the recommendations made by the committee was that the Government continue to increase the cost of cigarettes. The only thing that has been proved to work is setting the cost of cigarettes so high that people cannot afford to smoke. Many people who smoke are in socially disadvantaged categories and the more the cost of cigarettes is increased, the fewer people will smoke. It is tough love, if one wants to put it that way.
The argument has been made that we should not increase the cost of tobacco products — as happened this week in the budget — because so many cheaper brands of cigarettes are coming onto the market and the illegal trade is thriving. I do not accept that argument. In view of the cost to the health service and the threat to people's lives, it is not good enough to avoid increasing the price for fear of increased smuggling. We must deal with smuggling. I am asking the Minister to review the provisions on cigarette smuggling and consider how we can sting those involved in this trade.
There are two types of illegal cigarette: contraband and counterfeit. One is the genuine article — cigarettes bought in other countries at a cheaper price and sold here at a higher price — while the other is something that is not necessarily a cigarette as we would know it. We all know that arsenic and other poisons are found in cigarettes, but, according to last week's "Prime Time" programme, counterfeit cigarettes can contain three times the amount of lead and twice the amount of arsenic in legal cigarettes. This is appalling. What is going on is certainly manslaughter and perhaps even murder. People are selling things that they know are placing people's lives at risk, yet, according to the programme, a person caught with 13,000 illegal cigarettes was fined 13 cent by the courts. This is not a deterrent by any stretch of the imagination.
This is an issue that is relevant to the Departments of Justice and Law Reform, Finance, and Health and Children, but if each Department is dealing with the problem separately, we are not doing the people a service. It is vital that we take on this challenge. Those involved in this industry must know it is not acceptable and that they will be dealt with severely.
What scared me most was that I was aware of all the things I mentioned but not of the involvement of organised crime. This trade is now one of the easiest ways for paramilitaries and others to make sure they gain a substantial reward from their activities. Dealing with this must be a priority for the Department of Justice and Law Reform. I am not saying it will be easy because there is free movement throughout Europe and cigarettes are sold at much lower prices in many countries. If we cannot deal with this issue nationally — although I would like it to be dealt with nationally — we should be fighting this trade internationally. We must encourage other countries to raise their prices to deal with the problem. We must take a broader approach to the issue.
I could outline many more aspects of this matter as I, unfortunately, know the subject upside down and inside out. It is vital that the Government does not avoid putting up the price of cigarettes because of the illegal cigarette trade. We cannot throw our hands in the air and do nothing about it. We have instruments of State at our disposal, which we must use both nationally and internationally.