JAMES REILLY HAS revealed that politicians were lobbied on the issue of plain packaging on a scale never seen before in Irish politics.
The Children’s Minister described the lobbying of the tobacco industry as unprecedented and said that one legal letter from a cigarette firm was “especially aggressive”.
His comments came in a speech to the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi earlier today.
Ireland became only the second country in the world – after Australia- to pass legislation introducing plain packaging on cigarettes earlier this month. Despite expected legal challenges from Big Tobacco firms, the government has committed to having plain packs in the shops by May 2017.
In the speech, Reilly outlined the progress that has been made on implementing the EU Tobacco Directive, saying that MEPs had complained that the scale of lobbying on the issue was “unprecedented”.
“Leaked tobacco industry documents show that 161 lobbyists were hired and millions of euro was spent by one tobacco company alone,” he said.
On the Irish legislative battle, he said:
We were lobbied on a scale that Irish politics had never seen before but we had built a strong coalition that proved impenetrable to tobacco industry lobbying. Politicians from all parties and none joined forces to support this measure.
Speaking about a letter from JTI Ireland, which owns Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut, which threatened legal action unless the government withdrew its plans, Reilly said it was “especially aggressive”.
Not only did they attempt to tell a sovereign Government that we did not have the authority to enact plain packaging legislation, they attempted to tell us how far we could progress it through our Parliament and insisted that we provide them with a written undertaking – within a matter of days – not to progress it any further. They did not receive any such undertaking.
Reilly pointed out that the government’s plaining packaging bill passed both houses of the Oireachtas without any opposition, describing the clashes with the tobacco industry as “battles worth fighting”.
Reilly said he hoped to see the UK and France follow with their own legislation in a bid tp drive down smoking rates throughout the world.
Quoting the Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, he said: “‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ If we do nothing, the tobacco industry will delay and thwart public health legislation.”