Vincent Jennings is upfront about representing the interests of 1,200 retailers who sell cigarettes and other tobacco products. He is also upfront about his belief that warning photographs on otherwise plain packaging will not discourage people from smoking.
“It is good role models and making cigarettes more expensive that will work. I don’t hold sway with the view that [anti-smoking] education in schools works either,” says Jennings, a smoker.
He is chief executive of the Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association, which made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill.
“We run a business based on profit, and when all products are the same there will be an enormous shift from premium brands to value brands, so we will make less money from it,” he says.
Jennings estimates that plain packaging alone will not reduce sales. “Is this worthwhile when you consider that 65 per cent of the package contains graphic and text warnings already? The Government will have to defend itself in the courts when the tobacco companies seek compensation,” he says, referring to the threat this week by JTI Ireland, which owns the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, to sue James Reilly and Leo Varadkar, the former and current Ministers for Health.
Jennings also suggests that so-called tobacco tourism – when people bring cigarettes home from abroad – and cigarette smuggling will continue to fuel people’s smoking habits.
Supporters of the plain-packaging legislation see it as the last hurdle in Ireland’s attempt to become tobacco free by 2025. To become a “tobacco free” country, less than 5 per cent of the population must be smokers.
An alliance of health and children’s charities in favour of plain packaging says that the legal challenge by tobacco companies “highlights the desperation of the tobacco industry to retain their last great marketing tool”.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children says that children have a right to be protected from the marketing of an addictive and harmful product. "Plain packaging is one way to achieve this," says Caroline O'Sullivan of the charity.
Kathleen O'Meara of the Irish Cancer Society adds, "The latest figures from the Australian government show that the smoking rate there is at a historic low of 12.8 per cent. Here in Ireland it's just over 20 per cent."