TOBACCO COMPANIES ARE not happy with Minister James Reilly’s plans for plain packaging for cigarettes, but he insisted today they’ll be in the shops in just over two years’ time.
JTI Ireland, which owns Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut, is threatening the Irish government with legal action and has given the government until Friday to promise it won’t enact the draft law, or face legal action.
But speaking today, the Children’s Minister said: “The [EU] Tobacco Directive is quite clear, it won’t become operable until May 2016 and we’re going to allow a wash out period for the products that are already in place. So, it’s more likely to be May 2017.”
“You might ask why we want to do that. We’re very clear about the legal challenge. We want to be seen to be absolutely proportionate in what is a public health response to a really serious public health risk and we don’t want in anyway to be seen to not be completely fair in what we’re doing.”
Asked if he believed that plain packs will be in the shops by May 2017, he said: “Absolutely, absolutely I do.”
He said that despite objections from other European countries, including Poland which has some 60,000 people employed in the tobacco industry, he said:
“Obviously they are concerned about jobs but again I just think that it’s not the place to have an argument. Jobs over lives? I mean, no.”
Reilly, who began the steps to bring in the legislation while Minister for Health and has been a passionate advocate of the policy, earlier told TheJournal.ie:
JTI – through its Irish lawyers – have threatened the Irish Government. They are insisting that we halt our move to implement plain packaging while a British case makes its way through the European courts.
He said that the government won’t be bowing to pressure:
The response from the Irish Government is clear. We are progressing our plain packaging legislation this very day.
“I will be in the Dail with the legislation at Committee Stage,” said Reilly. “This Government is very clear on the importance of this legislation which will result in tobacco packs with more graphic warnings about the deadly dangers to our health.”
The bill is before the Oireachtas Health Committee today. Reilly added:
As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I must drive forward legislation that can result in protecting our children from taking up this killer addiction in the first place.
The new packaging would see the front-of-pack warning doubled in size, and no logos.
Ireland committed to introducing standardised packaging for cigarettes back in 2013.
It is understood Minister Reilly anticipated legal threats from tobacco companies, but pressed on regardless due to his belief in the positive affects of plain packaging.
A study carried out by Universities of Exeter and Bristol found that plain packaging reduces the likelihood of smokers seeking to get cigarettes by almost 10%, compared to branded packs.
The price of cigarettes went up to €10 a pack in this year’s Budget.
JTI said in a statement that it has “informed the government that we stand ready to file legal proceedings should it continue pushing for a ‘cut and paste’ policy that has failed in Australia”.
It described plain packaging as putting “politics before evidence”.
It said that JTI and other Irish and international business groups, trade organisations and legal bodies, have highlighted to the government that banning brands “would have far-reaching consequences on the country’s economy, above and beyond the tobacco sector”.
It described the measure as “in complete contradiction with the Taoiseach’s intention of making Ireland the best small country in the world to do business”.
Also today, new figures revealed the largest annual drop in the number of people smoking since 2009.
Smoking prevalence among those aged 15 or older fell from 21.5% in 2013 to 19.5% last year.
This figure stood at 28% in 2003.
There was also a significant increase in the number of people using the HSE’s QUIT programme. The numbers using an online plan rose from 2000 to 3705, and the number using phone supports from 54 to 150.
“These changes are welcome, but there are still over 700,000 smokers in Ireland, and we see 5,200 tobacco related deaths annually – that’s 15 deaths every day, and 100 families bereaved every week,” Dave Molly, National Tobacco Lead for the HSE, said.
“Ireland has set a target of being effectively smoke-free – less than 5% prevalence – by 2025,” he explained.
To achieve this target the Tobacco Free Ireland policy includes a range of tobacco control initiatives to further denormalise smoking, stop our children starting to smoke and help smokers to quit.
- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell and Nicky Ryan