November 10, 2017
by Forest EU

What the Holy doesn’t See: Vatican bans cigarette sales, ignores likely backfire

Pope Francis has ordered a ban on the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican, beginning in 2018.

In an official statement made on Thursday 9 November, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said: “The Holy Father has decided that the Vatican will cease to cell cigarettes to employees as of 2018.”

“The reason is very simple,” the statement reads. “The Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people. According to the World Health Organization, every year smoking is the cause of more than seven million deaths throughout the world.”

Reacting to the coming sales ban, smokers’ group Forest EU said:

“Banning the sale of cigarettes – a legal product – won’t stop Vatican employees from smoking or even buying tobacco. They will simply buy their cigarettes in the nearest store in Rome, a mere 7-minute walk from their workplace.” said Guillaume Périgois, Forest EU spokesperson.

“This sales ban will make Vatican smokers poorer by forcing them to pay more for something they enjoy consuming.

“It sends the message that the Holy See is preferring creeping prohibition to mercy, which is bizarre.”

Vatican staff and pensioners were permitted to buy five cartons of cigarettes every month from a supermarket and duty-free shop which is only open to those with a special pass. Many non-smokers inside the Vatican were asked by friends to buy cigarettes for them because they are cheaper than in Italy where they are heavily taxed.

Curiously, what will be banned in the Vatican as of 2018 is not the sale of all tobacco products but only that of cigarettes: “The sale of large cigars though will continue,” Burke added “since the smoke is not inhaled”.

Cigarette sales bring in an estimated 10 million euros a year to the Vatican City State and are the second-most important source of income after tax-free gas sales.

On a moral level, the Church has never defined smoking as a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the gift of physical health requires “reasonable care” of the body, and more specifically says: “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine.” (emphasis added).

Pope Francis, who had a lung removed as a teenager, does not smoke. Of his recent predecessors, Popes Pius X and Pius XI smoked cigars, while Pope John XXIII smoked cigarettes. Pope Benedict XVI was rumored to smoke cigarettes, but never in public.

This sales ban decision was of course celebrated by the WHO:

It is likely some in the (many) Brussels-based anti-smokers lobbies will be in heaven and applaud this decision, like one Board Member of the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention already did.

After all, just a few days ago, the Advocacy Officer of the Association of European Cancer Leagues congratulated increasingly tough Turkish government for a brutal move against harm-reduction products.

You don’t have to push tobacco-control advocates a lot to see that they indeed favour the kind of bans governments farthest removed from a democratic mandate have no qualm passing. In the end, it’s all about prohibition, not sensible regulation. And yet, these lobbies will find an attentive hear in the people at DG DANTE.

The theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually.” This principle of prudence should make us look at the likely consequences of laws to see whether they will cause more harm than good.

There’s not much that is gradual and prudent about the sales ban Pope Francis just ordered. And while some could praise the purpose of this ban, its unintended consequences are not to be forgotten: Vatican smokers will cross the border to buy their cigarettes, leaving them poorer, and the city state will collect less in tax revenue, leaving it poorer.

Featured image: “Plaza de San Pedro / Piazza San Pietro” by Pablo Cabezos is licensed under CC BY-2.0


About Forest EU

Since 1979, Forest has been the leading voice in defending the rights of tobacco consumers and tolerant non-smokers. As an advocacy campaign, Forest EU informs consumers about issues that affect them in the European Union and engages with stakeholders so the views of informed adults are taken into account within the EU’s decision-making process. Forest EU doesn’t encourage smoking, accepts there are serious health risks associated with smoking tobacco and represents the consumer, not the tobacco industry. For more information, visit


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