The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis has banned the sale of cigarettes within the Vatican, refusing millions in annual revenue over health concerns.
Francis’ ban on cigarette sales effectively denies the Vatican about $11 million in annual revenue, according to the Associated Press, but a statement released Thursday by Vatican spokesman Greg Burke declared, “no profit can be legitimate if it puts lives at risk.”
The Vatican cited millions of smoking-related deaths calculated by the World Health Organization.
“The reason is very simple: 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,” the statement reads.
The ban on cigarettes not only severs the Vatican from complicity in furthering the potentially deadly vice, but also strikes at long standing abuses of the Vatican’s duty free shopping license and policies. Cigarettes were available in the Vatican solely from the Palazzo della Stazione building, and even then were only available to those who carried a Vatican “commercial card,” according to Catholic News Agency. The card is available only to accredited diplomats, Vatican residents, employees, retirees, and members of religious congregations within the city state.
Given that the Vatican employs about 5,000 people, Ernst & Young estimated in 2013 that only a few thousand people should qualify to be cardholders, but an audit referenced in a 2015 book called “Avarice,” based on leaked Vatican documents, reported that 41,000 “commercial cards” were issued and active. The cards are highly sought after since all Vatican goods, ranging from fine wine to cigars and upscale electronics, are duty free. Duty free Vatican-sold cigarettes were particularly prized, as smoking is a widespread habit throughout Italy, according to CNS.
Cardholders were also limited to buying 80 packs of cigarettes a year, but the audit referenced in “Avarice” reported that 278 cardholders violated that policy. People also often openly smoke within the Vatican, despite a 2002 ban on smoking in almost all enclosed spaces in the city state. Francis’ new ban, which will take effect in 2018, may help to cut down on those violations.
The ban failed to mention anything about cigars.
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