Cabinet approval for draft laws to compel tobacco companies to use plain packaging on all the products they sell in the Republic represents a significant public health initiative and reaffirms this country’s reputation as a global leader in tobacco control. When enacted, the new law would ban the use of any logos on cigarette packs. Graphic warnings would be mandatory on all packaging, and terms such as “low tar” would be forbidden.
As the first EU member state to introduce plain packaging legislation, stern opposition to the law from the global tobacco industry can be expected. Indeed the lobbying has already commenced; the Taoiseach has been approached by American business and political interests who argue the plain packaging initiative would convey an adverse message to foreign investors.
According to the Minister for Health, the objective of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 is to make tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers; to make health warnings more prominent; and to reduce the ability of the packs to mislead people, especially children about the harmful effects of smoking.
By targeting children under the age of 18, the tobacco industry knows that, due to the challenge of giving up cigarettes in later life, it can exploit an opportunity to ensure a customer base for many years to come. Of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.
Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, and is the world’s biggest cause of premature death from chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and obstructive lung disease. Some 1 in 2 smokers will die from a smoking related disease.
A legal challenge to the legislation by the tobacco industry is inevitable. It will dispute the effectiveness of the proposed packaging measures and argue they represent a breach of tobacco companies intellectual property rights. In the interest of public health, the Government must stand firm against all challenges to tobacco control.