Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Reilly braced for tobacco 'fight'

Health Minister James Reilly holds a press conference as he announces Government approval for larger health warnings on tobacco packs

The Government is braced for an onslaught of legal challenges from the tobacco industry as it pushes through plans for standardised packaging.

Large graphic images and health warnings will dominate packets of cigarettes, Health Minister Dr James Reilly said he will not be intimidated by big tobacco.

"We know they are going to challenge every single aspect about this and we know that some will challenge us upfront but they will always find others to fight it as well," Dr Reilly said.

"Be under no illusion, this fight has only begun. This is another important step along the road but each step we have to fight hard to achieve."

The minister said he would be astonished if the tobacco industry does not wedge legal action against Ireland as it did in Australia, which was the first country to introduce plain packaging.

He said the Government will be "fought every inch of the way".

By introducing laws that make it mandatory for tobacco to be sold in standardised packaging, the Government hopes to make it harder for manufacturers to promote their brand.

Recommendations from the health minister will now go before the Oireachtas Health Committee for further discussion before Christmas with the aim to have the new legislation in place in the first half of next year.

"I want this to go to our Oireachtas Health Committee where it can be explored, where there can be wide-spread consultation and where we can get this bill as perfect as possible before we publish it, and we then will continue to monitor through the normal processes other amendments that may be brought in," Dr Reilly said.

The minister declared war on smoking earlier this year when he revealed plans to have a smoke-free Ireland by 2025.

If successful, his campaign will ensure that less than 5% of the population will be smoking in the next 12 years.

Ireland's smoking population is currently around 29% - well above the average among OECD countries at 21%.

Dr Reilly has been touched personally by the suffering caused by smoking after his brother died of lung cancer and his father went blind following a stroke.

Both were smokers and, like Dr Reilly, both were doctors.

Ireland became the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with the workplace smoking ban in 2004.

This was followed by an end to the sale of 10-packs in 2007, a ban on retail displays and adverts in 2009, and picture health warnings on packets this year.

An extension of the smoking ban could extend from the workplace to public areas such as parks and beaches.

Dr Reilly said plans for this were well underway and that he hoped that - with co-operation from local authorities - they may be able to come into effect without the need for new legislation.

Smokers' rights group Forest Eireann said they plan to challenge the legislation.

Spokesman John Mallon said: "There is no evidence that plain packs will stop children smoking or reduce smoking rates among adults.

"The most common reasons children start smoking is because of peer pressure or the influence of family members. Packaging has nothing to do with it.

"The introduction of standardised packs in Australia last year has had no discernible effect on the sale or consumption of tobacco. Illicit trade, however, has increased, as many people said it would."

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