Reilly slams delay in launching plain cigarette packets
Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly has criticised the Government over the delay in introducing plain-packaged tobacco products.
Dr Reilly, who spearheaded the legislation when he was Children's Minister, expressed concern that the new laws are three-and-a-half years behind.
Plain packet cigarettes are due to be appear on the shelves in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks.
However, the Department of Health has admitted to the Herald that the laws in the Republic have yet to be fully implemented.
The industry has sought a 12-month period after the law is enacted to allow it to sell off any outstanding tobacco that is not contained in plain packaging.
If this is granted, it appears highly unlikely that plain packets will be on Irish shelves until 2018.
A spokeswoman for the Dep- artment of Health confirmed that the legislation has yet to be enacted.
"The Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 is currently being amended by the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 which is currently going through the legislative process in the Oireachtas," she said.
"These provisions are of a technical and practical nature and the majority seek to provide basic information to the consumer.
"Once the bill completes the legislative process and is enacted, arrangements can then be made to introduce the standardised packaging measures."
The spokeswoman did not say when plain packets will finally be on the shelves.
Dr Reilly said the legislation must be expedited as a priority.
"I am very concerned that it has taken such a long period to introduce measures that will reduce addiction rates," the now senator told the Herald.
Earlier this year, a number of NGOs expressed concern about the delay in the law coming into force.
"We are calling for the prioritisation of this legislation by the Government so that this important public health measure can be introduced without any further delay," they wrote.
In Australia, in the two years following the introduction of plain packaging, smoking rates fell to a historic low of 12.8pc, down from 15.1pc before.
In Ireland, the smoking rate currently stands at 19.5pc. The fast-tracking of the measure will be a huge step towards achieving the new Programme for Government's commitment to making Ireland tobacco-free (less than 5pc smoking rate) by 2025. Any additional delay may endanger this target.
"The State has shown great courage in tackling smoking rates and the tobacco industry and we hope that this continues with the prioritisation of this bill," the NGOs wrote.
They included the Irish Thoracic Society, the Asthma Society, the Irish Cancer Society and the Children's Rights Alliance
The group also expressed concern that the tobacco industry, which has engaged in significant lobbying in recent months, will seek to take advantage of the bill being delayed.