herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Reilly gets backing on his refusal to meet tobacco lobbyists over packaging

health

James Reilly
James Reilly

Children's Minister James Reilly has been assured that his officials are under no obligation to meet representatives of the powerful tobacco industry.

Dr Reilly sought guarantees from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in response to attempts by one of the world's largest tobacco firms to meet government officials over regulation of the industry.

JTI Ireland has been frustrated by Dr Reilly's refusal to engage with them over his plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products by 2017. The tobacco firm has launched a legal challenge in an attempt to block the proposal.

But in a letter to the department, seen by the Herald, the firm claimed that it was "imperative" that it meets with the Government over policy relating to the tobacco industry.

Referring to recently enacted Lobbying Act, JTI Ireland said that the laws ensure "all registered lobbyists will be protected from unfair and arbitrary exclusion".

Obligation

"As one of the most heavily regulated sectors in Ireland, it is imperative that we meet with the regulator to communicate our position on proposed policy or legislation," the company added.

But the Department of Public Expenditure, which drafted the lobbying legislation, told Dr Reilly that the act does not place any obligation on government departments to meet lobbyists.

"In relation specifically to the letter from JTI, it is a policy matter for public officials themselves to determine whether and how they engage with those seeking to lobbying them," the department said.

"The act does not guarantee lobbyists access to designated public officials and does not place any obligation on government departments to meet lobbyists."

Dr Reilly has had a deeply-fraught relationship with JTI in recent months since his decision to forge ahead with plans to introduce plain-packaging by 2017.

Ten EU member states have objected to the plans to introduce standardised tobacco products, including Hungary, Poland, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

The number stems from concerns that Ireland's initiative will have an adverse affect on the EU single market.

Government figures, however, point to a recent report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that stated plain packaging "reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, minimises misleading packaging and enhances the effectiveness of health warnings".

The WHO recognised the efforts by countries to introduce the measures despite the efforts of tobacco firms.

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