American business warns Taoiseach over tobacco proposals

Any attempt to introduce plain packaging would infringe trademark protection

Minister for Health James Reilly has proposed the introduction of standardised or plain packaging of tobacco products. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Health James Reilly has proposed the introduction of standardised or plain packaging of tobacco products. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Some of America’s largest business organisations have urged the Taoiseach to rethink plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

Such a move, which was agreed by the cabinet in May, would mandate the “destruction of legitimate and legally sanctioned trademark protection and branding”, the heads of the organisations warned in a letter.

The six organisations involved are the US Chamber of Commerce, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers, the United States Council for International Business, the National Foreign Trade Council and the Transatlantic Business Council.

Ireland will become the second country in the world after Australia to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products if the measures proposed by Minister for Health James Reilly are implemented.

The letter, which was sent shortly after Dr Reilly secured cabinet agreement for plain packaging, expresses “serious concern” about the implications for intellectual property rights and warns it could impact on a proposed new trade agreement between the US and the EU.

It further states that there is “no clarity that plain packaging is effective in accomplishing the stated goal”, while “a false and damaging choice is being presented when effective alternatives exist” and it will lead to more illicit trade in tobacco.

It concludes: “We strongly urge you to review the way forward following the statement from the Minister of Health.”

The chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Damien English said he too had received a copy of a letter.

Speaking at the launch yesterday of a report into the problem of tobacco smuggling, Mr English said the issue of plain packaging “needs to be teased out a lot more” before it is implemented.

He said it could increase tobacco smuggling and make it easier to counterfeit cigarette packets.

The report by Italian-based researchers Transcrime reveals that Ireland has the third highest rate of tobacco smuggling in Europe, estimated at between 13 per cent and 29 per cent of all tobacco products.

The report entitled Factbook on the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Product (ITTP) said high cigarette prices, inadequate penalties for offenders and easy access for suppliers are all contributing to a loss of revenue to the State of between €200 million and €250 million a year.

The research was partially funded by Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco manufacturers.

Dr Reilly’s attempts to introduce plain packaging in Ireland has been boosted by a report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) from Australia.

The report found that plain packaging “is associated with lower smoking appeal, more support for the policy (of plain packaging) and more urgency to quit among adult smokers”.

It compared smokers before and after plain packaging was introduced. It found plain pack smokers were 66 per cent more likely to think their cigarettes were of a poorer quality than a year ago and 81 per cent are more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day.

However, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which manufactures well-known brands such as Benson & Hedges , Camel and Silk Cut, has disputed the findings.

JTI Ireland general manager John Freda said the survey size was small (536 people) and measured perceptions about smoking rather than changes in patterns of behaviour.

He added: “This is insufficient to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of plain packaging on tobacco consumption while the central contention that smokers were persuaded to quit by plain packing was “pure speculation”.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly said the minister was “unwavering” in his determination to introduce plain packaging having secured Government support for it.

“He made it clear at the time that the tobacco industry would try and derail this and this is what is happening at present. He is ready and willing to encounter such interventions and push forward,” he said.