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No more ‘Holy Smokes’ as Pope Francis stubs out cigarette sales

By Cian Molloy - 13 November, 2017

Pope Francis has stubbed out the practice of selling cigarettes in the Vatican’s shops, ending an unhealthy perk enjoyed by the Church employees in Rome for many decades.

The Holy See ‘cannot be cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people’ said a press statement, issued by Greg Burke, Director of the Vatican’s press office, which cited the World Health Organisation’s statistics that attribute 7m deaths a year worldwide to tobacco consumption.  Indeed, lung cancer is the most deadly of all cancers, killing more men and women worldwide than any other type of cancer.  The primary cause of lung cancer in men, women and children is cigarette smoke.

A set of normal healthy lungs and the lungs of a smoker

Until this weekend, cigarettes were among thousands of luxury and everyday goods sold in the Vatican’s own tax-free department store, which is a three-storey building located at the back of St Peter’s Basilica in what was the Vatican’s train station.

A ‘commercial card’ that gives you access to tax-free shopping in the shop is one of the perks of that come with the job when you are a Vatican employee. In addition to avoiding duty on tobacco, alcohol and luxury goods, holders of Vatican commercial cards can buy their groceries tax-free, thus avoiding the 22% VAT rate charged on most goods in Italy.

Cigarette sales in the Vatican were said to be worth about €10m a year in 2015, according to an economic analyst who put tobacco as the second most valuable good sold within the Vatican’s walls. Only tax-free petrol sales at the Vatican’s own petrol station garnered a higher level of income than the deadly weed.

In the statement, Mr Burke said, “Although the cigarettes sold to employees and pensioners in the Vatican at a reduced price are a source of revenue for the Holy See, no profit can be legitimate if it puts lives at risk.” However, the sale of cigars will continue in the Vatican’s department store ‘because the smoke is not inhaled’, Mr Burke added.

While there have been many churchmen who have been champions of the temperance movement, such as Ireland’s own Fr Theobold Matthew, there are few examples of churchmen who have campaigned against tobacco or who have highlighted the problem of nicotine addiction.  There is a joke however, that the Spiritan Order have done some work in this area. It is said sometimes, that the initials CSSP, which stand for Congregatio Sancti Spiritus, secretly mean ‘Cigarette Smoking Strictly Prohibited’!

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