Legislation to force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packages emblazoned with health warnings will be published shortly, Minister for James Reilly has vowed.
The heads of the Bill are going to go in the next couple of weeks to the Oireachtas health committee, he said, leading to enactment “in the middle of next year”.
Dr Reilly was speaking at the release in Dublin today of research findings which showed teenagers are attracted to smoke by the branding and presentation of cigarette packs.
He said it is unacceptable for a product that kills 5,200 Irish people a year and 700,000 Europeans to be packaged in a slim, pink container like a perfume or lipstick.
“Standardised packaging is the next logical step in combating this public health epidemic,” he said.
“We’re just confirming what the tobacco industry has known for years, I suspect and that is why they spend so much on their branding and on their last remaining mobile billboard - the cigarette packet itself. I want to remove that from them.
“This scourge is going to crucify the next generation and we have a responsibility to help existing smokers to stop,” he said. “It is their choice, but a duty of care pertains to us in Government to protect the next generation and children under the age of 18 from taking up this habit.”
A coalition of charities and health groups have come together to lobby the Government to bring in laws making it illegal for cigarette companies to use colour, text and size to market tobacco products.
The research on teenagers' views of cigarette marketing, jointly commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society, found cigarettes on sale in Ireland communicate fun and style, and give the perception a smoker looks and feels better about themselves.
It found cost plays a part in stopping teenagers from buying premium brands, but appealing packaging has the power to generate buzz, incentivise a purchase and communicates perceived benefits of one brand over another.
All teenagers surveyed said the new unbranded packets were at odds with the image of themselves they want to portray.
Dr Reilly said he expected a strong challenge from the tobacco industry which is keen to protect its profits not only in Ireland but throughout the EU and in the US. The Irish experience will be closely watched on that basis, he warned.
Tobacco companies have 161 lobbyists, being paid by the industry, to lobby over 700 MEPs, Dr Reilly claimed.
“The money they are spending, they are prepared to throw everything at this. Every year we delay on the directive in Europe it is 700,000 more Europeans dying.”
According to the HSE’s National Office of Tobacco Control, manufacturers need to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those who die or quit.