Plans for plain tobacco product packaging to go ahead

Government ignores legal threat from tobacco firms over new Public Health Bill

Plans introduced by former minister for health Dr  James Reilly to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products are to go ahead despite a legal threat from the tobacco industry. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Plans introduced by former minister for health Dr James Reilly to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products are to go ahead despite a legal threat from the tobacco industry. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

The Government is to press ahead with plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

The Government has ignored a threat from one of the world’s largest tobacco firms that it should halt legislation going through the Dáil immediately or face a High Court claim for damages.

JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut brands, told Ministers Dr James Reilly and Leo Varadkar that it would take legal action if they failed to promise by Friday that no further steps would be taken to enact draft legislation on the introduction of plain packaging.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The legislative process for the Bill resumed on February 17th in the Dáil and will continue as normal.”

The spokesman said a letter had been sent to Arthur Cox, the solicitors representing JTI, by the Department of Health.

A spokesman for JTI Ireland said that it would not be commenting on the issue.

The firm’s legal threat to the two Ministers, which was copied to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, was issued a week ago via solicitors from Arthur Cox.

Dr Reilly introduced the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill last year when he was minister for health. He retained command of the file when he became Minister for Children and Dr Varadkar took over the health portfolio.

The basic aim of the legislation is to remove the last space for tobacco advertising, to reduce the incidence of smoking and diminish the tobacco industry’s power to recruit new smokers.

JTI claims

JTI claimed the State had no right to enact the draft law and effectively instructed the Ministers to halt its parliamentary passage while a British case in Europe’s highest court continued.

“For these reasons, please undertake to us as soon as possible and, in any event, on or before 20th February 2015 that no steps will be taken to enact the Bill, pending the outcome of the reference to the Courts of Justice of the EU by the High Court of England and Wales,” the letter said.

“If this undertaking is not forthcoming, JTI proposes to issue proceedings challenging the competence of Ireland to enact this legislation and, in the absence of an appropriate undertaking in relation to the legislation pending the outcome of these proceedings, will seek such relief as is appropriate from the High Court.”

Ireland would be the first EU member state to ban branded tobacco packaging, prompting anxiety in the global tobacco industry that an Irish law could set a precedent for other European countries.

JTI, owner of the former Gallaher tobacco business, says in the letter it directly employs about 100 people in the State, supplies 3,100 retailers and paid more than €665 million in Irish tax in 2013.