Smoker? You must be a pirate!

Retail Ireland is a part of IBEC – the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation. They’ve just released a report that tells us the state is losing €860m annually to the black market. The problem with their report is that if it’s believed, it effects government policy. And, well, their statistics just don’t add up.

In this report, Retail Ireland tell us that €526,000,000 is lost to the Exchequer in smuggled tobacco and cigarettes. They also helpfully tell us that taxation accounts for 80% of the price of tobacco; and that “the current recommended price is now nearly €9” (it isn’t – it was over €9.50/packet when I gave up, over three months ago). And that a black market packet of cigarettes costs €3.20.

But using their figures:
* €526,000,000 lost to the exchequer, at 80% taxation implies €657,500,000 in illicit sales.
* At €3.20/packet, thats 205,468,750 packets of illegal cigarettes sold every year.
* That’s 562,900 packets of illegal cigarettes smoked every single day of the year.
* Ireland’s population, aged 15 and over, is 3,311,517 (last CSO figures).
* Therefore, we are supposed to believe that on average, every single person in the country aged 15 and over smokes almost 1/5th of a packet of illegal cigarettes – three to four ciggies – each. Every single day.

That seems… unlikely. And it is:

* The Office for Tobacco Control says that the prevalence of smoking in those aged 15 and over is only 23.6%not 100%.
* So the population, for our purposes, isn’t 3.3 million, it’s 781,518.
* Therefore, we are supposed to believe that on average, every single smoker in the country smokes over 70% of a packet of illegal cigarettes – 14 cigarettes – each. Every day.

Am I missing something here? Because if every single smoker is smoking that many illegal cigarettes, then who the hell is buying all the legitimate cigarettes? And what are they doing with them?!

Yes, I am sure there is a hell of a problem with black market trading of tobacco, fuel, counterfeit goods, and so on. But I’d like solutions, policies and resources deployed based on more accurate figures than the ones Retail Ireland seem to be plucking at. Rather than, for example, the establishment of specialised “copyright courts”, which they seek.

Because if they’re so inaccurate about tobacco, then I can only assume that they’re equally inaccurate about their figure for “1 in 2 of people who downloaded movies admitted they rarely if ever paid for the download.” (This gets attributed to an unnamed “Industry source”  So that’d be inaccurate. And unbiased.). There are, apparently, according to Retail Ireland, 770,000 illegal downloaders in Ireland.

Hmm. That figure is remarkably close to the number of smokers, 781,518… You could almost call it a correlation!  I wonder. If we cut off the internet access of Ireland’s smokers, would illegal downloading drop to zero?