There is a long-standing commitment by successive Governments to use taxation along with other measures as an instrument to discourage smoking, particularly amongst younger people. This policy has been broadly successful. The Government’s Healthy Ireland strategy has set a target that 5% of the population or less would be smokers by 2025. According to HSE figures, the rate of smoking in Ireland fell to 18% of the adult population as of June 2018, down from 28% in 2003.
High taxation levels create an incentive for tobacco smuggling but tackling this problem is a high priority for Revenue. An annual survey conducted by IPSOS MRBI in 2018 on behalf of Revenue and the HSE’s National Tobacco Control Office found that 13% of cigarettes consumed in the State were illicit. This compares to a survey estimate of 13% for 2017 and 10% for 2016. However, the 2018 estimate of 13% is reduced from the comparable estimate in 2011 of 15%.
Revenue has indicated to me that they use a range of measures deigned to identify and target those involved in the smuggling, supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to disrupting the supply chain, seizing the products and, where possible, prosecuting the persons involved. Revenue’s strategy involves developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources on a risk-focused basis.
Revenue and An Garda Síochána work together on an ongoing basis in acting against tobacco crime, and both organisations cooperate closely with their Northern Ireland counterparts, in the framework of the North-South Joint Agency Task Force, to target the organised crime groups that are responsible for a large proportion of this form of criminality. In addition, Revenue works closely with the relevant authorities in other jurisdictions, the European Anti-Fraud office, Europol and other international organisations, including the World Customs Organisation, in the ongoing programmes of action at international level to combat tobacco crime.
Revenue’s extensive ongoing programme of work against the illegal tobacco trade has achieved a considerable level of success. During the period 2016 to end-August 2019, 157.8 million cigarettes and 7.826 tonnes of roll your own tobacco were seized. In addition, 104 tonnes of raw tobacco were seized when two illicit cigarette factories were discovered in Co. Louth in 2018 and 2019. There were 123 convictions for tobacco-related offences in the period from January 2018 to September 2019.
The Government has ensured through the Finance Acts over recent years that Revenue has the necessary statutory powers to tackle the illicit tobacco trade. I am satisfied that the current legislative framework provides an effective basis for this important work but I am open to considering any proposals for further changes that Revenue may bring forward in the future.