Ireland's largest tobacco brand was snubbed by junior health minister Catherine Byrne when it sought a meeting to promote its vaping business in the Irish market.
Japan Tobacco Ireland controls more than half the Irish tobacco market though brands such as Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Camel. It is also the largest single player in the nascent vaping sector, claiming more than a quarter of the Irish market by value.
Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, was contacted in April by the Irish arm of the global tobacco giant, requesting a meeting to discuss Ireland’s vaping market.
"As relatively recently developed consumer products, there are varying points of view – and indeed many misconceptions – regarding ecigarettes and their role in providing an alternative to smoking," wrote JTI Ireland corporate director, Nick Blake, in his April 20th letter, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.
“JTI Ireland’s Logic brand is the market leader of vaping products with 26.1 per cent share of value. We would be very grateful of an opportunity to meet and brief you more fully on this market, its emerging trends and the growing body of research on the use of vaping products,” he said.
However, the Minister turned down the meeting on the grounds that evidence on its long-term safety has yet to be established.
Ms Byrne's private secretary, Alan Kelly, responded to Mr Blake in May, thanking him for his correspondence.
“Although the health technology assessment conducted by Hiqa found that results for e-cigarettes are promising, there is currently a lack of evidence to recommend their use as a smoking cessation aid,” Mr Kelly wrote.
“The safety of ecigarettes is an evolving area of research; while potentially safer than smoking, evidence on its long term safety has yet to be established. Therefore the Minister regrets that she will be unable to meet with you at this time,” he added.
JTI, which employs about 100 people in Ireland, was the last manufacturer of cigarettes on this island. It entered the Irish market with the acquisition in 2007 of the Gallahers tobacco business.
In 2015 it announced plans to make 800 workers in its Ballymena cigarette factory – the last tobacco manufacturing plant in the country – redundant. The closure of the Lisnafillan site completed in early 2017 with cigarette production moving to Poland and Romania.
Their decision coincided with the introduction of plain packaging, something the Irish subsidiary had lobbied against and challenged in the courts.