EC says Ireland can't set minimum prices for cigarettes, also more contraband cigarettes found..

March 1, 2010 - The Irish government says the agreement to set minimum prices for cigarettes with the tobacco manufacturers was made for the primary purpose of preventing low-cost selling of tobacco products in Ireland. By setting a minimum retail price for a packet of 20 cigarettes it undermines the ability of retailers to provide special cut-price offers on certain brands. (Ireland - Cigarette pricing rule a risk to free competition..)

The European Commission (EC) has questioned Ireland’s right to set minimum prices for cigarettes and other tobacco products. If the EC wins, as expected, its challenge against the Irish government this week cigarette prices in Ireland could fall. The commission has questioned Ireland’s right to set minimum prices for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The EU’s 1995 Manufactured Tobacco Tax Directive permits importers and manufacturers of tobacco products to set maximum prices for their products.(COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 95/59/EC of 27 November 1995 on taxes other than turnover taxes which affect the consumption of manufactured tobacco) But Ireland’s 1986 Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) (No 2)Regulations prohibit the sale of cigarettes at less than 3 per cent below the average price. (S.I. No. 7/1986 — Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Regulations, 1986.)

The government says minimum prices are necessary to protect public health by ensuring that tobacco products are not too cheap. It claims that the directive refers only to the setting of maximum prices, not minimum prices. But the commission is seeking a declaration that Ireland has breached its obligations under the 1995 directive. Similar cases are being pursued against France and Austria.

Last October, Juliane Kokott, the Advocate General at the European Court of Justice, found against Ireland and, while her opinion is not binding, the Advocate General’s views are generally followed. Kokott argued that setting a minimum price interfered with manufacturers’ freedom to set a maximum price, which could not be lower than the limit set by the state. She said EU states could increase the excise duty on tobacco products, and this was an appropriate way to protect public health. The Court of Justice will deliver its judgment on Thursday, March 4th.

The Revenue Commissioners collected an estimated €1.22 billion in excise duty from tobacco products last year, up from €1.17 billion in 2008.

In a separate development, customs officers last Tuesday, February 23rd seized cigarettes worth almost €12 million from business premises in . The 28 million cigarettes were hidden in bulk pallets of timber. The operation involved the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Naval Service and Air Corps and customs officers and police from both sides of the border. (DUNDALK: Dissident Republicans Suspected After Customs Seize €12m Of Contraband (illegal, illicit, smuggled) Cigarettes)

A statement from the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee said: "Non Irish duty-paid cigarettes cost this country €526 million last year. That is an unacceptable loss of government revenue during recessionary times. The expected loss to the exchequer for 2010 is set to reach €616 million."

Reference: EU court ruling could cut cigarette prices by Kieron Wood, The, 2/28/2010.

Some Ireland related news briefs:
Ireland - ASH will never give up - get smoking out of cars (and homes) when kids are present..;
Ireland - harder to quit when switching to low tar cigarettes..;
Ireland - after 2004 smoking ban decline in maternal smoking rates as well as lower risk for preterm births..;
Ireland - cancer society urges government to increase cigarette tax..;
Ireland - increase fine for cigarettes imported illegally..;
Ireland - roll your own cigarettes making a comeback..;
Ireland - lots of smokers - lots of sickness - resulting in premature death - THIS HAS TO STOP..;
Ireland - people responding well to the ban on cigarette displays..;
Ireland - Prof Clancy not enough spent on prevention..;
Ireland - tobacco vendors must register by October 1, 2009..;
Children - exposed to cigarette smoke in cars have greater chance of respiratory distress..;
Ireland - tobacco companies not helping small retailers - display ban..;
Tobacco control initiatives starting Wednesday, July 1, 2009..;
Ireland - Office of Tobacco Control 2008 annual report - Positive..;
Ireland - modest penalty for cigarette smuggling..;
Ireland - to amend tobacco legislation to to include pictoral warnings..;
Ireland - as of July 1, 2009 no advertising or display of tobacco products will be permitted in retail outlets..;
Ireland - cigarette tax abandoned over smuggling fears..;
Ireland - may raise tax on cigarettes as part of emergency budget..;
Ireland - ban smoking in cars when kids are present..;
Ireland - further provisions of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts 2002 and 2004 are to be commenced on 1 July 2009.;
Ireland - 80% of smokers want a ban on tobacco advertising in shops to stop youngsters starting the habit..;
Ireland to ban tobacco displays..;
Ireland - reduction in admissions for acute coronary syndrome...