I dream about Ireland’s tobacco policies being implemented in the United States. Coming from an American assistant professor who researches tobacco control, I must admit that my country is lagging behind Ireland’s cutting-edge, progressive rules aimed at reducing smoking. Ireland is currently ranked second out of 34 European countries for tobacco control, behind only the UK (Department of Health, 2013).
There is one policy, in particular, that I wish the United States would mirror from Ireland: increased cigarette taxes.
Decades of research indicate that the most effective method of decreasing smoking rates is to increase taxes on cigarettes. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that for every 10% increase in cigarette price, there will be a 4% decrease in demand among high-income countries, including Ireland (WHO, n.d.). As such, the WHO recommends that taxes make up at least 70% of a pack of cigarettes’ final retail price (WHO, n.d.).
I currently reside in the great state of Virginia…well, great in many ways, but not regarding cigarette taxes. Virginia has the second lowest tax per pack of cigarettes in my country, at 30 cents, earning the state a ‘thumbs down,’ failing grade by the American Lung Association (American Lung Association, 2016). Moreover, Virginia has not increased its taxes on cigarettes for 10 years (Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, 2016). After including the federal government’s $1.01 tax, Virginia residents pay only 27% of cigarettes’ retail price in taxes.
In comparison, Ireland’s tax is at nearly €9, thanks to the recent 50 cent tax increase, which is almost 80% of the retail price. In addition, the Department of Health’s Tobacco Policy Review Group has recommended that the Irish government continue to raise taxes on cigarettes every year for the next few years (Department of Health, 2013). It will be interesting to see how many euro a pack of cigarettes will be in Ireland by 2020.
The research literature suggests that tax raises have had, and will continue to have, substantial impacts on smoking prevalence and deaths due to smoking. In 2011, Howard Reed conducted an analysis on behalf of the Ireland Heart Foundation to determine the effect of cigarette taxes on smoking prevalence. This was a ground breaking study for Ireland. Previous studies had examined impact of price on number of cigarettes purchased, but did not study the impact on the number of smokers in Ireland. In his analysis, Reed used real cigarette prices and SLÁN data from 1998 and 2007. After accounting for age, sex, social class, education, and family structure, Reed found that a €1 increase in cigarette taxes would result in a 3.8% reduction in the number of smokers, roughly 30,000 fewer smokers in Ireland.
In a separate research study, Currie and colleagues (2013) used a sophisticated simulation model to predict the impact of various tobacco policies, including taxes, on future smoking rates. Specifically, the researchers examined taxes on smoking-related deaths by the year 2040 in Ireland. Not surprisingly, the authors found that high taxes would result in a reduction of 7% in smoking prevalence and the aversion of 3,681 smoking-related deaths in Ireland by 2040. The simulation model was based on taxes making up 70% of the retail price. By raising taxes to nearly 80% of the retail price, one can safely assume that an even larger number of smokers than predicted by Currie et al will quit smoking and avert a smoking-related death.
Through advocacy efforts, perhaps one day the United States, and hopefully the state of Virginia, will become more aggressive it its cigarettes taxes. Until then, I and other anti-tobacco researchers will look to Ireland for inspiration as a model country.
Dr. Christopher Seitz,
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health,
University College Cork
Department of Health. (2013). Tobacco free Ireland: Report of the Tobacco Policy Review Group. Dublin, Ireland: Department of Health. Retrieved from
WHO. (n.d.). Tobacco Free Initiative. Retrieved from
American Lung Association. (2016). State of tobacco control 2016: Did your state make the grade? Retrieved from
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. (2016). State excise and sales taxes per pack of cigarettes total amounts & state rankings. Retrieved from https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0202.pdf
Currie, L.M., Blackman, K., Clancy, L., & Levy, D.T. (2013). The effect of tobacco control policies on smoking prevalence and smoking-attributable deaths in Ireland using the IrelandSS simulation model. Tobacco Control, 22, e25–e32.
Reed, H. (2011). Irish Heart Foundation tobacco taxation, smuggling & smoking in Ireland. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Heart Foundation.