Circumstances have contrived to put smokers in a very awkward situation today. Due to persistent professional lobbying by the various arms of Public Health, cigarettes in Ireland cost twice the European average from all the legal outlets.
However, as is the way of these things, the criminal fraternity have seen their opportunity and they would appear to have ridden to the rescue of the hard-pressed smoker by providing illegal cigarettes all over the country for the European average price or even below it.
Forest Eireann has long argued that increased Government Excise on tobacco yields decreased income from that source because it forces smokers to seek an alternative supplier. When a fifty gram pack of Samson costs €20.00 in the shop and yet you can get the exact same thing for €6.00 on the street, you can see where the problem lies. At the stroke of a pen, the Government could put the criminals out of business. All they would need to do is return tobacco product pricing to the EU average, thus removing the profit motive from the handling of the illegal stuff.
But that is just pure common sense so it is unlikely to happen. That leaves a problem though. The power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland is on the point of collapse and it is down to IRA criminality. We know on this island the IRA in it's various incarnations are the Godfathers of tobacco smuggling. The guaranteed profits from these operations actually fund their continued war against our democracy in both Ireland and the UK.
This then is the real moral dilemma for the victimized smoker. When you opt NOT to be a victim of State racketeering by buying legally in a shop, you are instead either directly or indirectly funding terrorist organisations. Think of it as, "The ballot box in one hand and twenty cigarettes in the other." Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern both engaged in a lot of real politic when then cajoled all of the parties to sign up for peace in the North. Both leaders knew that the ranks of the paramilitaries on both sides were filled with young men who had only ever known a state of war and their war was funded by criminal activity. Those uniforms on the front line of law enforcement now know this and the unspoken official attitude seems to be to look the other way. After all, isn't it better to have these men smuggling a few fags instead of bombing the State into violent confusion.
There is little appetite in either London or Dublin to really stamp out the illegal tobacco trade lest it sets the hard men growling once again. But equally both Governments are guilty of pushing their own innocent citizens into the arms of these gangsters by falsely and grossly inflating the price of tobacco as they have done over the last ten years. And it is unsatisfactory now for the very lobbyists who forced our Governments down this track to wash their hands of the resultant criminality and say instead that it is a law and order issue. The lobbying charities and the feeble listening ears in Government are both guilty of conspiring to create the new tobacco smuggling phenomenon.
They in turn though will blame we smokers for buying the cheap stuff rather than obeying their demands of us. In response however, we refuse to be bullied by quasi-charities and lying politicians and the criminals win hands down. This then is the state of play as I write. The retailers are naturally up in arms because by complying and obeying bad laws they all see their business going tits-up. Meanwhile what the Irish Examiner calls "An epidemic of illegal tobacco," floods the country as we poor smokers are forced to fund the ex-paramilitaries.
The very voices who condemn us for enjoying a smoke also tell us that smoking is a stronger addiction then a heroin habit. This begs two questions. If a heroin junky could buy his stash at half price or less, what do you think he would choose to do? And if smoking is harder than heroin to give up, how the hell are a million smokers to do so overnight? So buying illegal but reasonably priced tobacco contributes to the destabilization of the State, that much is clear. But then again, this is the State that controls the price for the legal supply and lies about ETS.
It's a moral dilemma but not of our making.