The Irish Cancer Society has urged the Government to follow Australia’s lead and increase the cost of smoking after the southern nation announced plans to raise the price of a packet of cigarettes to AU$40 (€28.50) by 2020.

To mark World Cancer Day today, the society highlighted that one in four cancer deaths in Ireland are caused by smoking, and said Ireland should follow Australia and make a bold pledge on pricing.

It said tobacco taxes are one of the most effective ways of cutting the number of people who smoke.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: "We need to send a strong signal that the Government is serious about reaching its target of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025.  

"To do this we need to follow the example of Australia, where significant spikes in excise duty, next to policies such as plain packaging, have seen a dramatic fall in the smoking rate to 12.8% by the middle of 2016. In Ireland, the smoking rate is just under 20%."

Around 20,000 people are diagnosed with invasive cancer in Ireland every year.

The number of new cases is rising annually and is projected to double by 2040.

Nearly 3,000 cancer deaths in Ireland annually, about one in four, are caused by smoking.

The Irish Cancer Society said keeping the price of cigarettes high and out of reach of young potential smokers is a key element of the strategy to reduce the smoking rate in Ireland.

Forest Ireland, a campaign group for smokers, has criticised the call to increase the cost of tobacco.

Spokesman John Mallon said: "Raising taxes on tobacco is an outrageous attack on the poor and the elderly. It will fuel illicit trade and drive law-abiding citizens into the hands of criminal gangs.

"Tobacco is a legal product and consumers shouldn't be punished or treated like lepers for exercising their right to buy or consume it."

He added: "It's very easy for senior executives with their high salaries to call for tax increases. If they have any empathy for ordinary people they should show a bit more compassion for those who enjoy smoking and are less well off."

In a statement to mark World Cancer Day, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the new National Cancer Strategy, which will be published shortly, will focus on cancer prevention, early diagnosis and further improvements to cancer treatment.

The statement noted that the World Health Organisation estimates that 30% to 40% of cancers are preventable.  

It added: "Ireland has led the way internationally in anti-tobacco measures and this continues to be a priority area for cancer prevention."