Belgium denies massive increase in cigarette sales
Belgium denied reports Saturday of a massive increase in tobacco sales due to the lure of the country's cheap cigarettes and tobacco for discount-seeking smokers from Britain and France.
The finance ministry denied a cover story by the daily Le Soir and radio reports that said cigarette sales leapt 19 percent in the first nine months of the year.
Citing exclusive data from the finance ministry, Le Soir said sales of roll-your-own tobacco increased 25 percent.
It also reported booming business in filling stations near the Franco-Belgian border, where some owners were quoted saying tobacco sales were outpacing sales of petrol.
But Claude Monseu, an advisor to Finance Minister Didier Reynders, later told the Belga news agency that sales were expected to show a 12-month fall and that the discrepancy between the paper's report and the ministry's data resulted from a change in the way tobacco products were taxed and the timing.
Health experts had complained in the daily that Belgium's cheap tobacco goods fanned cancer.
While a smoking ban in public spaces was widened in July to cover all cafes, the price of cigarettes remains relatively low in comparison with some countries in Europe.
Le Soir said that in 2002, a pack of 20 cigarettes was 0.50 euros cheaper in Belgium than France, but the current difference was 1.20 euros. It said a pack that cost eight euros in Britain cost 5.05 euros in Belgium.
Monseu however said the price gap was also due to the fact that French packs contained 20 cigarettes while Belgian packs contained 19. He also said Belgium was the fifth most expensive tobacco nation in Europe.
© 2011 AFP