Anti-smoking groups have expressed outrage at the use of young children in the smuggling of cigarettes into Ireland.

ASH, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation said they believed the Government appeared unwilling to act against the illicit trade and child abuse.

The groups were responding to last night’s Prime Time which highlighted the use of young children in the importation and sale of illegal cigarettes into Ireland.

John McCormack of the Irish Cancer Society said he believed Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan had ruled out an increase in tobacco prices in the forthcoming supplementary Budget, even though it would yield around €420m without any significant impact on inflation.

Mr McCormack said the minister, in a letter to anti-tobacco groups, cited the excuse of smuggling as a reason not to increase the tobacco tax.

Mr McCormack said this was despite compelling evidence to show that such an increase would deter young people from starting and, indeed, encourage smokers to quit.