Tobacco lobby steps up campaign against plain packaging

Dozens of letters from retailers sent to TDs in past week

Irish and American business interests stepped up their lobbying campaign against plain tobacco packaging as the Government moved last week to approve legislation on the measure.

In the seven days since the Cabinet signed off the draft law, Government TDs have sent on dozens of letters from retailers opposing the new law to Minister for Health James Reilly.

It has also emerged the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny the day before Dr Reilly brought the matter to Ministers last week for a decision.

“We understand that your Cabinet is poised to consider legislation that would impose plain packaging requirements on tobacco products,” wrote Mr Donohue. He expressed concern the measure would “undercut well-established protections for intellectual property” without evidence of its effectiveness.

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He also enclosed a copy of a previous letter on the matter to Mr Kenny from the chamber and five other US business groups. His intervention in private correspondence came days ahead of a public statement on the legislation by the chamber’s intellectual property division.

Such lobbying comes amid growing expectation of a legal challenge to the legislation by the tobacco industry.

As Dr Reilly introduced the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill in the Seanad last night, he accused the industry of using false arguments about illicit trade to “terrify” responsible Irish retailers into opposing the legislation.

‘Arguments dishonest’

“I believe their arguments today remain as bogus and as dishonest as they have been for the past five decades,” the Minister said. “The tobacco industry has a dark track record of hiding the truth to protect its profits. Don’t expect it to change now.”

His office has received numerous letters from retailers in the past week which were originally sent to TDs. Many of these comprise the exact same text and some are co-signed by a number of individuals.

One letter from a Co Laois supermarket manager, seen by The Irish Times, had 56 co-signatories. "We implore you to bring this matter up with the Minister – as we fear it won't be long before we see ourselves unable to keep all our employees as it just will not make financial sense to keep staff on when I can't even make cash myself," the letter said.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times