Let's Express

THE PRICE OF SOCIAL ENGINEERING

Many non-smokers in the last few years have sneered openly at the smoker’s plight. This self-righteous brigade of nannies have ensured tobacco prices are raised year on year and this in turn saw the explosion in black market tobacco.

Excluding smokers from the pubs and bars on the shaky pretext of saving the lives of barmen has seen a pub a day close in Ireland with the resultant redundancy of a lot of healthy barmen. This absence of pubs, particularly in rural areas, has had the knock effect of changing the social lives of whole areas and led in turn to a dramatic increase in home drinking and loneliness.

There has been many suggestions from elsewhere in the world that the Pharmaceutical Industry was behind all of it. The theory goes that they invested millions into the development of alternative nicotine delivery systems such as gums and patches and sold these through the traditional chemist’s shops. Despite heavy advertising though, the take-up was pathetic. Smokers bought cigarettes because that is what they wanted with their own money. Big Pharma was left with a dilemma. Do we take a bit hit and drop these products or do something to force smokers to buy them. So the greasing of palms in both politics and medicine begat an anti-smoking movement lavishly funded to agitate for laws to make smoking difficult and unattractive.

And it was all going to plan as well until something unforetold happened. A little Chinaman tinkered around in his garage trying to make something look, taste and operate like a cigarette but without the unwanted dangers of real burning tobacco. The electronic cigarette was born. By the time it came here, our Government had tobacco products completely overtaxed and we had the most expensive cigarettes in the EU. Still the pharmaceutical nicotine stuff wasn’t selling despite the endless doctor’s referrals in that direction. When tax revenue from tobacco fell due to smokers switching to the black market, the answer was always to put up the tax further.

Then in a quite natural organic way, smokers began to drift towards experimenting with the new-fangled e-cig. It began slowly but then quickly gathered pace. As this was going on the Government had just hidden tobacco from view in the shops and was working on a law to insist the boxes containing it must become ugly and grotesque. Guys like me continued to smoke but whenever I went out, I used the e-cig. In public, the Government put on a united anti-tobacco face but in private, they were concerned at the falling revenue from legal tobacco sales. It was a nice little annual earner yielding one-and-a-half billion a year to them but this had begun to edge down.

Speaking on behalf of the Government though, Public Health and the charities assured the public that this loss of tobacco tax to the State was a very good thing. People were living longer into old age and the two parties saying all of this were still raking in the Pharma and grant monies to carry on their crusade. The six-figure salaries were not in doubt for them. But the big cloud on the horizon was the collapsing health service. Old people are always getting sick and the more of them there are, the worse it is for the HSE, despite their protestations.The hospitals call these old non-smokers bed-blockers.

The other big cloud for the Pharmaceutical Industry, Public Health and the charities were those damned e-cigs. Unable to find a problem with these things they adopted instead a tactic of hinting darkly at the possible dangers of their long term use. It was a fabricated rumour without substance of course. What was really driving them crazy though was the sheer numbers of people who were quitting smoking and turning voluntarily to the humble e-cigarette instead of buying the expensive, useless Pharma products. The whole point of the anti-smoking scam from day one was to re-direct the smoker’s buying power, of two billion euros a year, away from the Tobacco Companies and over to the Pharmaceutical Industry. That was to be the big pay-off.

But that, “nicotine war,” discovered how effective the third entrant to it could be. You see, the Tobacco Companies thought they could depend on addiction to guarantee sales while the Pharmaceutical Industry used the blunt instrument of paid for laws to command the smoker to comply. The e-cig allowed the smoker free will and choice, thus its popularity.

Fast forward to today and the Tobacco Companies are embracing the e-cig and even coming up with safer tobacco products themselves while still offering the traditional smoke. The Pharmaceutical Industry is fuming at Government and its other partners as more and more smokers try an e-cig for themselves or still buy black market cigarettes. But the big losers are the Revenue Commissioners. The annual take for tobacco in 2016 was down to around one-point-one billion, (a drop of €400M in one year),  and they are forecasting a further fall this year. With a doctor in charge of the country facing his first budget next month, any fall in revenue from the usual places is worrying. But there’s a problem for Taoiseach Leo. A further increase in tobacco prices will bring the yield from tobacco products further down rather than up, as the Revenue Commissioners have repeatedly warned.

While e-cigs are subject to VAT like everything else, they are still a cheaper alternative when it comes to satisfying your desire for nicotine and you can vape in all the better pubs too. But the big win for the Government, if they haven’t been hypocritical all along about their concern for smoker’s health, is that finally smokers are switching to something 99% safer, their e-cigs.

So I was shocked to read in The Sun that officials in the Department of Finance are advising Paschal Donohoe that, “One way to raise money would be to extend the tax on tobacco to e-cigarettes. The briefing doc points out that smoking is in decline and so tax income is expected to fall.” But this war on tobacco was never about revenue, we were told. It was always solely a health issue to protect up all from the dangers of smoke, firsthand and second. Are they now proposing to stop us quitting smoking or heavily penalize us for trying?

New taxes could be slapped on e-cigarettes, gambling and the VAT rate for tourism in next Budget

Let me explain the money angle here. In Ireland, a packet of twenty cigarettes pre-tax would cost you €2.38 but then €8.62 is added in combined taxation.The equivalent of twenty cigarettes in e-cig form is a €2.00 cartridge. If they tax this as a tobacco product, an e-cig cartridge will shoot up to €10.70!!!  Twenty cigarettes on the ever available black market is about €4.00 so this new proposal is a huge tax on opting to be healthy and a strong incentive to get back to smoking the real thing.

If this is the course Doctor Varakar gives his blessing to in next month’s budget then you’ll know once and for all that their priority is money and not health. You will know for sure that this whole anti-tobacco crusade from the smoking ban to plain packs was, and still is about money and nothing else.

Oh! And the price of social engineering to date has been five hundred million euros and rising…………