Tobacco firm JTI Ireland denies delaying tactics

Delay in plain packaging of tobacco products not in company’s interest, court hears

Tobacco company JTI Ireland has denied arguments  the firm is seeking to delay a decision  concerning plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Tobacco company JTI Ireland has denied arguments the firm is seeking to delay a decision concerning plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

 

Tobacco distributor JTI Ireland has denied arguments by the State that the firm is seeking to delay a decision by the European Court of Justice concerning plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products.

It is not in JTI Ireland’s commercial interest to have any delay in its challenge to the Government’s new laws on plain packaging, Paul Sreenan SC said.

If the new laws come into effect in May 2016, as the Government intends, the company would have to be well prepared for changing its production lines to comply with the new packaging or else it will lose market share, he said.

JTI is opposing the Minister for Health’s bid to have issues in its challenge referred to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), including issues as to whether part of an EU directive on plain packaging is valid.

The Minister and the Sate want the Commercial Court to refer the case to the CJEU, which is expected later this hear to hear a similar case referred to it by the courts of England and Wales. The State says the new law is designed to make smoking “as unattractive as possible”.

In its proceedings, JTI claims the new laws would be contrary to EU harmonisation objectives, would be an obstacle to trade between member states and would lead to distortion and impairment of the dynamics of competition in the tobacco market.

It claims the new law, the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015, imposes stricter rules than are necessary to transpose the 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU). 

JTI also argues that Article 24.2 of the 2014 directive is invalid.  That article states the directive shall not affect a member state’s right to maintain or introduce “further requirements” in relation to standardisation of tobacco products where it is justified on grounds of public health.

Such measures by the member state must be proportionate, not be discriminatory or a disguised restriction on trade, the company claims.

Mr Sreenan rejected claims by the State that JTI, in opposing a reference to the CJEU, was trying to delay any decision from the CJEU in relation to the English case before that court.

Another reference from the Irish courts is likely to delay the CJEU decision and it might transpire, when the CJEU decides the English case, that a reference from Ireland may not be necessary, he added.

JTI supplies 50 per cent of the ready-made cigarette market in Ireland.

The hearing continues before Mr Justice Brian Cregan.