The Government is prepared for a legal challenge from tobacco companies following the expected enactment of its plain-packaging Bill last night. Minister for Children James Reilly has hailed the passage of the legislation which he said would protect people from the harmful effects of tobacco and provide a lead for other EU countries, as the smoking ban did a decade ago.
“We are prepared for legal action,” Dr Reilly said when asked about the response of the tobacco industry. “The Attorney General has her team together and we fully expect, once the legislation is enacted and commenced, that they will probably file a lawsuit. They will do it more in the hope than certainty. They do it more to intimidate us and to intimidate other countries who are prepared to follow suit.”
Mr Reilly said the impact of the legislation could not be underestimated, either in Ireland or abroad. “We know the UK will have a free vote on this, hopefully before they rise for the next general election. We know that France wants to follow suit and a number of other EU countries are looking at implementing the same measures as us.
“This is about protecting people from the harmful effect of tobacco – 700,000 Europeans die from tobacco-related disease each year.”
When it was put to him that people would become desensitised to the stark images of smoking-related diseases, he disagreed. “The evidence from Australia will not concur that people become desensitised. Since their first introduction there has been an increase in the number of people giving up cigarettes. Their figure on smoking is the lowest since records began.”
In response to his comments about legal firms which represent both tobacco companies and Government departments and agencies, with responsibility for healthcare and prevention, the Minister said: “My main concern is to protect our children from taking up cigarette smoking and the harmful effects of tobacco. That’s at the core of what we were doing.”
Dr Reilly said 5,300 Irish people died each year from smoking-related diseases. He paid tribute to the late Gerry Collins who featured in an advertisement warning about the dangers of tobacco as he was dying from cancer. The first anniversary of his death occurred yesterday.
“It was very brave of him and his family to make that advertisement which makes it very real for people what the effect of cigarettes is,” said Dr Reilly.