ROME – As of 2018, smokers wanting to buy cheap cigarettes at the Vatican will have to go looking somewhere else, since Pope Francis has decreed that the sale of tobacco will no longer be allowed inside the walled state.
“The reason is very simple,” said Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke, “the Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people.”
In a statement Nov. 9, Burke cited statistics indicating the harmful effect of cigarette smoke. Every year more than seven million people die in the world due to complications caused by smoking, according to the World Health Organization.
In Italy, taxes have caused cigarette costs to surge – making it not uncommon for citizens to opt to buy their smokes in the Vatican, where prices are considerably lower. The Italian government never looked kindly on this practice, complaining about the lost tax income.
Vatican employees, pensioners, and others with access to the shops inside Vatican City could buy cigarettes at a further markdown and up to five cartons a month. Some would then sell the cigarettes in Italy and make a considerable profit.
According to the 2015 book ‘Avarice,’ based on leaked documents from the Vatican, the papal state makes up to $11 million a year in profit from cigarette sales.
Burke acknowledged that, “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.”
A letter sent to Australian Cardinal George Pell in 2014 and published by Italian news outlet Repubblica, shows that cardinals also benefitted from the discounted cigarettes, with 500 packs a month set aside for the red hats with a further 20 percent markdown.
The sale of large cigars though will continue, the spokesperson continued, since the smoke is not inhaled. The Vatican tobacco stores have a discreet selection of Cuban cigars, marked at 20 percent less than their cost in Italy, making them among the cheapest good-quality cigars in the world.
The news regarding the ban on cigarettes was first revealed by Argentine news outlet Telam and the Wall Street Journal.
The Vatican banned smoking in buildings in 2002, under Pope St. John Paul II.