Legal threat will not halt tobacco packaging plan, says Reilly

Tobacco firm says it will take action if Government keeps working on plain packaging

JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, has told the Government  it will take legal action if they fail to promise by Friday that no further steps will be taken to enact the draft law on plain packaging. Photograph: Reuters

JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, has told the Government it will take legal action if they fail to promise by Friday that no further steps will be taken to enact the draft law on plain packaging. Photograph: Reuters

 

The Oireachtas “will not be intimidated by external forces” in legislating to control tobacco use which is responsible for 5,200 deaths each year, Minister for Children James Reilly has said.

Mr Reilly made his remarks as JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, reiterated its commitment to mount a legal challenge to proposed legislation around plain packaging of tobacco products.

The tobacco company said the move would cost Irish jobs. In a statement JTI Ireland said the restriction also contradicted Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s “intention of making Ireland the best small country in the world to do business”.

But speaking at the conclusion of scrutiny of the new tobacco Bill by the Oireachtas committee on health, Mr Reilly said tobacco was one of the few products which if used in accordance with manufacturers recommendations “will kill one out of every two users”.

Support

Mr Reilly said it was clear the measure was supported “not just by the Government but by the Opposition as well” and he thanked Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher and other TDs and Senators for their support.

In relation to a potential impact on retailers he said he hoped those who gave up smoking would have money to spend on other things. He also urged people to make use of the opportunity provided by Ash Wednesday to give up smoking.

Mr Reilly said the State would allow the tobacco industry two years to comply with new legislation on standardised packaging. Mr Reilly said the industry had until May 2016 to end manufacture of their current designs. Following this the industry would be given a further year to “wash out” their stocks of old packaging and from May 2017 it would be illegal to sell the older packaging.

The committee was told by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin that new packaging would not be “a white box” and would carry health warnings.

Mr Reilly said the typeface of the name of the manufacturer, its size and colour and positioning on the box would be set in accordance with an EU directive on tobacco. He also said he was not inclined to treat cigars or pipe smoking any differently.

At the conclusion of the committee’s deliberations Mr Reilly said: “ I think it is very clear this Parliament understands the importance of this particular measure; it won’t be intimidated by external forces regardless of where they come from. The health of our people is a primary concern to this legislature, not just this Government but the Opposition too.”

Meanwhile, new figures released by the HSE’s National Tobacco Control Office show last year saw the largest annual drop in smoking prevalence since 2009.

Smoking prevalence in people over the age of 15 was 19.5 per cent in 2014 compared to 21.5 per cent for 2013. This equates to a reduction of an estimated 70,000 smokers during the 12 months of 2014. Smoking prevalence was at 28 per cent in 2003.

HSE national tobacco lead Dave Molloy said the drop “shows that the comprehensive range of tobacco control measures implemented in Ireland are working”.

“We welcome today’s confirmation that smoking prevalence is reducing, and the increased uptake in smokers seeking help to quit,” he said. “The HSE and all involved in implementing the Tobacco Free Ireland Strategy intend to accelerate our efforts in order to ensure fewer people take up smoking, to help more smokers to quit, and as a nation achieve tobacco free status by 2025.”

He said that to achieve this target, the Tobacco Free Ireland policy would include a range of tobacco control initiatives to “further denormalise smoking, stop our children starting to smoke, and help smokers to quit”.

“These changes are welcome, but there are still over 700,000 smokers in Ireland, and we see 5,200 tobacco related deaths annually – that’s 15 deaths every day, and 100 families bereaved every week,” he said.

Mr Molloy added that the QUIT campaign ads featuring Gerry Collins have “inspired over 200,000 quit attempts since last year, and have been used as a model for similar campaigns in the UK”.