THE DÁIL will tomorrow begin debating legislation giving dramatic new powers to the Minister to Health, allowing him to require cigarette packaging to carry graphic images showing the damage that smoking can cause.
The Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013 will allow the Minister to unilaterally issue new guidelines on the advertising and promotion of tobacco, ahead of the introduction of new EU-wide rules expected to take effect next year.
The Bill also ensures Ireland is observing a European Court of Justice rule which found that minimum retail prices were a breach of EU law – though the legislation will not impact on Ireland’s own ability to levy excise on the sale of tobacco as it sees fit.
Last month the European Commission adopted a new directive on the design of cigarette packets which will require almost three-quarters of a packet to be devoted to health advertising and pictures showing the effects that smoking can have on internal organs.
The Irish rules will pre-empt this by allowing James Reilly to issue new regulations on the design of tobacco packaging, as well as its marketing and promotion.
Enactment of the legislation, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month, will make Ireland one of the first European countries to have brought in the new rules – over a year ahead of the introduction of the European rules which must first be approved by MEPs and health ministers.
Reilly himself may be in a position to oversee the approval of the new rules by health ministers, with Ireland’s presidency of Council of the EU giving him the opportunity to chair several meetings of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council.
The new EU directive will also prohibit the inclusion of certain flavours in tobacco products, as an attempt to stop the marketing of certain products which may be more oriented towards younger consumers.
The European Commission said its new proposals were not only geared toward improving public health, but also towards further harmonising the internal market within the EU’s borders.
The moves also hope to make a dent in sales of illegal tobacco, as imported and illicit cigarettes will now be easier to spot if they do not carry the EC’s health warnings.