Ireland’s relationship with tobacco – the stats

An estimated 80,000 fewer people are now smoking in Ireland according to the annual Healthy Ireland Survey that was published in October.

This means the percentage of smokers has gone from 23 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2018.

The survey, launched by Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne TD and conducted by Ipsos MRBI, also shows figures for how the recently introduced plain packaging on cigarettes and graphic health warnings affects the motivation of smokers to quit, as well as how many smokers have attempted to quit in the previous year.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, the fifth most common cancer in the country is lung cancer, with an estimated annual diagnosis rate between the years 2015 and 2017 of 2,566.

Lung cancer is also the fourth most common cancer in both men and women, with an estimated nine out of ten instances of lung cancer being either a direct result of, or partially caused by smoking.

In addition to this, only one out of ten lung cancer patients will live for five years or more following diagnoses, as opposed to other types of cancers i.e. prostate cancer where nine out of ten patients will live for five years or more following their diagnosis.

Up to 5,200 people die annually from smoking-related diseases throughout the country, which is approximately 100 deaths per week according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

There are many reasons why the percentage of smokers has changed, not only due to new packaging regulations but also rising prices with each budget.

Roll your own cigarettes, according to the HSE, have risen in usage from just 3.5 percent of smokers using roll your own in 2003 to 24.6 percent in 2014.

This latest figure has also risen significantly since then, with an estimated 30.3 percent of smokers using roll your own cigarettes and 6.2 percent of the overall population using e-cigarettes according to the HSE’s mid-year report for 2018.

Another reason for the change in numbers can be attributed to the prohibitions put in place as well as the ‘old reliable’ for budget increases each year.

Without fail since 2011 the price of cigarettes has risen every year in Ireland, the average price of a pack of twenty cigarettes in 2010 being between €7.50 and €7.75.

At the time, Irish legislation mandating a minimum pricing on cigarettes was deemed to be an infringement of European Union competition laws, yet this has not stopped the almost continual increase on prices and tariffs.

It was not until 2015 that the price of twenty cigarettes rose to over €10, with the average price nowadays being approximately €12.50.

These spikes in prices have no doubt contributed to the lower numbers of people smoking today, although advertising campaigns and other similar efforts have also contributed.

The rise in roll-your-own cigarettes has also had an impact in other areas of tobacco consumption, as they tend to represent better value for money than cigarettes. These two have seen drastic price increases, however, in addition to the removal of smaller, 12.5 gram boxes from the market.

The government has plans to reduce the percentage of the population that is smoking and by extension the number of deaths related to it.

The Departments of Health and Welfare, and by extension the current government, has plans to reduce smoking in Ireland to just three percent, or to below five percent, which would allow for the title of “tobacco-free” by 2025.

While this may or may not happen, it gives good incentive and allows for quite an optimistic projection of where the country may become 2025 and beyond in the numbers of people who succumb to smoking-related diseases.

If it is assumed that the population is 4,800,000 in 2018, that leaves 960,000 smokers today.

If the projections are met, and around three percent of the population is smoking in 2025, and we allow for an increase in population every year of approximately one percent (total estimations of yearly change, just for simplicity, with numbers rounded to the nearest whole number and estimating by average yearly percentage increase), the approximate population of Ireland in 2025 would be in the region of 5,197,712 (give or take quite a few in either direction).

Three percent of this would be just 155,931, markedly lower than current numbers.

While there will be people who unfortunately die as a result of smoking during and after 2025, if we assume that 5,200 people out of 960,000 die every year, a rough estimate of the change in deaths come 2025 would be something closer to 845 (5,200 being roughly 0.54% of 960,000, 845 being roughly 0.54% of 156,000).

This, remarkably, means that if the Department of Health and the government are successful in creating a ‘tobacco-free’ Ireland, around 4,355 fewer people would die each year of tobacco-related diseases.

(Data sources: CSO, HSE, Irish Cancer Society, Ipsos MRBI)

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