Free condoms are being made available in one of the largest pharmacy chains in the State in the days before and after Valentine’s Day in order to “help promote a culture of safe sex” and to highlight the high rate of VAT which is still attached to the contraceptive.
CarePlus Pharmacy, which has 60 pharmacies across the country, will distribute thousands of free condoms that come packaged with information on the importance of safe sex.
At least 10,000 condoms in packets of three will be available from the counters of every pharmacy in the chain and people will not have to ask for them.
There will also be no limit in the number of packets people can take and a spokesman for the store said the stock would be replenished if necessary.
Figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Unit of the HSE show that rates of chlamydia, herpes simplex and gonorrhea are on the rise with people in the 15-24 age group making up the majority of all chlamydia cases reported.
“The days of people being embarrassed about condoms in pharmacies are long gone, but the statistics show that many young people are not as careful as they should be,” CarePlus pharmacist John Keane said.
“People should know that they can talk to their pharmacist, in privacy and confidentiality, about anything including their sexual health.”
Condoms are currently considered to a “luxury” item, and subject to the higher rate of VAT. The chain’s commercial director Niamh Lynch expressed the hope its classification can be changed.
“Given the impact that STIs can have on people, it’s clear that price should not be a barrier to safe sex. If we can draw attention to the matter by distributing free condoms this week, hopefully it might give rise to a discussion about whether they are still a luxury item in 2019.”
A box of 12 condoms can cost up to €20, which health groups have long claimed is too expensive for young people.
In 2008, the then Fianna Fáil government reduced VAT on condoms from 21 per cent, one of the highest in Europe , to 13.5 per cent.
The move also followed petitions from various health bodies, including the Crisis Pregnancy Agency , which cited studies showing a significant portion of young people felt the cost of condoms discouraged them from using them.
A VAT reduction would also help charities who distribute free condoms to at-risk groups.