James Reilly shrugs off tobacco legal threat
The Government is refusing to back down on its plans for plain cigarette packaging, despite the threat of legal action by a tobacco giant.
Children's Minister James Reilly said there is no reason to delay the Bill to bring in plain packaging, which has now been considered by a Dail health sub-committee.
It emerged yesterday that Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Ireland, which produces the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, had informed Dr Reilly and Health Minister Leo Varadkar that it will take legal action if they fail to promise by Friday that no further steps will be taken to enact the draft law.
However, Dr Reilly said the Government has been advised by the Attorney General and there is no reason to delay the Bill.
The plan was first mooted during Dr Reilly's time as health minister, along with prominent new warnings on packets, with the aim of making tobacco products less attractive.
"I first asked our department back in 2013 to prepare for this so it would be certainly improper of anyone to suggest that we have rushed this Bill," he said.
"We have clear advice that there is no reason to delay and we are determined that we must act to protect our children from taking up this killer addiction."
He said the move would go ahead "within weeks rather than months".
New figures from the HSE's National Tobacco Control Office have revealed the biggest annual drop in smoking prevalence in Ireland since 2009.
The proportion of the population who are smokers decreased by two percentage points, or an estimated 70,000 smokers, during 2014.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by JTI Ireland's general manager Igor Dzaja warned that banning brands would have consequences for the economy.
"We have informed the Government that we stand ready to file legal proceedings should it continue pushing for a 'cut and paste' policy that has failed in Australia. Plain packaging puts politics before evidence," he said.
"We and numerous Irish and international business groups, trade organisations and legal bodies have highlighted to the Government that banning brands would have far-reaching consequences on the country's economy, above and beyond the tobacco sector."