Ian Paisley jnr: 1,000 jobs at risk over plain cigarette packs
A Northern Ireland MP has stepped up efforts to stop the introduction of plain packaging on tobacco products which he claims will put up to 1,000 jobs at risk.
Ian Paisley jnr said the proposed legislation could result in huge job losses in his North Antrim constituency, and that the plans could have a devastating effect on staff numbers at the Gallaher/Japan Tobacco International (JTI) factory in Ballymena.
He is backed by 73 fellow MPs who co-signed a letter to coalition Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt opposing the move.
Mr Paisley said while he is not pro-smoking, he is pro-business.
The MP said the letter is a result of a long campaign to demonstrate to the Government the unintended consequences, such as increased smuggling of illegal tobacco products, he claims the measures will bring. Advocates of the move claim plain packaging will help reduce the number of people taking up smoking, but Mr Paisley described that argument as "ludicrous".
"If I genuinely believed that removing the design and branding on packets of cigarettes would actually deter smoking, then the argument against would be hard to justify," he said. "However, it is quite apparent to anyone looking rationally at this issue that this is simply not the case.
"I haven't heard of one person who has started this habit because of the design of box they bought their first cigarettes in.
"What the open letter has attempted to convey is the sheer naivety and ill-judgment of these proposals and the many negative unintended consequences that come with it."
But DUP colleague, Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots, is in favour of plain packaging.
Latest HMRC figures reveal that up to 16% of cigarettes and 50% of handrolling tobacco in the UK is smuggled, losing the Treasury up to £3.1 billion annually.
Mr Paisley said standardised packaging would make it much easier for smugglers to duplicate authentic products.
With JTI/Gallaher operating a factory employing 1,000 people in Ballymena, the town is one that would be particularly negatively impacted by the measures.
JTI has annual salaries contributing £54m to the local economy, and provides more than £9m of business for more than 100 Northern Ireland companies.