British American Tobacco (BAT), which trades in Ireland as PJ Carroll, has accused the State's tobacco regulator of "inaction" for failing to rein in its commercial rivals over allegations that some of them are selling new products that it claims may be in breach of last year's ban on menthol-flavoured cigarettes.
The Health Service Executive said a year ago that it would investigate tobacco companies for allegedly breaching the Europe-wide ban on menthol flavours, which some have allegedly tried to circumvent with techniques exploiting loopholes while marketing them as menthol substitutes.
The market in the Republic for the flavoured cigarettes was worth up to €250 million before the ban came into force last May, and many tobacco companies sought to retain their share with the substitutes.
Japan Tobacco International, for example, launched Silk Cut Choice Green, which it admitted still contained traces of menthol. But it claims it is in compliance with rules because they don't taste or smell of menthol. Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro, also launched a new brand targeted at smokers of its old Marlboro Green, but insists the new product is legal and menthol-free.
Simon Harris, who was minister for health until last July, has previously accused tobacco companies of "undermining" the ban.
Despite its year-long investigation, the HSE's Tobacco Control Office has yet to issue any findings and some companies that chose not to launch menthol substitutes, such as BAT, are growing frustrated over the delays.
There is “no rationale for the HSE to further delay” its action against tobacco companies that may be breaching the ban, BAT wrote in a letter to the HSE this week. “We are concerned that inaction is leading to more products appearing on the market.”
Imperial Tobacco, which makes John Player, recently launched JPS Cool Green as a menthol substitute. Although the ban was introduced to reduce smoking, internal industry sales data supplied to The Irish Times shows that JTI and Imperial now sell more of their menthol substitutes than they did of the flavoured cigarettes prior to the ban.
Irish authorities have previously suggested the issue needs to be dealt with at European level, while the European Commission has suggested that national governments have their own powers to force products off the shelves. The HSE did not respond to a request for comment.