Hungary Wants State Concession on Selling Cigarettes

by Jenny Novac on November 29, 2011

The Hungarian government wants to introduce a state concession on the sale of tobacco products in an effort to keep minors from buying them and also to support small local businesses.

Hungarian Tobacco Factory

Cigarettes on the production line in a tobacco factory

“We are aware of minors regularly being able to buy cigarettes, which is something that usually happens at multinational stores,” Janos Lazar, the parliamentary group leader for the governing Fidesz party, told reporters Monday.

Selling tobacco products and alcoholic beverages to buyers under 18 years old is illegal in Hungary. However, it can be hard to verify customers’ ages, especially at larger outlets with high foot traffic, so many don’t bother.

“We are looking to adopt the Austrian model, which involves the designation of a set number of registered kiosks run by small local businesses,” Mr. Lazar said. As he explained, Hungarian smokers are estimated to spend up to 500 billion forints ($2.2 billion) a year on smokes, a market the government wants to be controlled by small family businesses.

“We want to create tens of thousands of jobs this way and do something that will also be good for local communities,” Mr. Lazar said.

He added that the transparency of cigarette sales would help address the related public health problems, especially in the less-affluent, eastern parts of the country. “The farther east you go, the worse conditions of living you find, the more propel you’ll see smoking,” he said.

The government is not concerned that the move will be too painful for big retailers. “Tesco and the like will still be highly profitable,” Mr. Lazar said.

He noted that he is currently in consultation with various departments and ministries on how the Austrian system can be adopted to suit Hungarian specifics.

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