Minister: We'll win war on tobacco
The Health Minister has vowed to win the war against the tobacco industry as he moves to enforce the standardised packaging of cigarettes.
Dr James Reilly said he wants cigarette firms to try and defend themselves at the Oireachtas health committee, which will receive the heads of bill for the new law in the coming weeks.
Ireland aims to become the second country in the world to force tobacco manufacturers to use unbranded boxes emblazoned with graphic images of the effects of smoking.
Dr Reilly said the law is on target to be enforced by mid 2014 following "robust debates" between committee members and campaigners.
"I hope that the tobacco industry come in to defend their position because I don't believe they have a position to defend other than the position of profit, and it should never be a case of profit over lives or quality of life," he said.
Under the reform cigarette boxes will be a generic size and colour, and will only feature the brand name on the bottom and a large picture showing the harmful effects of cigarettes, like rotting lungs.
The legislation will ban logos, branding, colours, graphics and trademarks from cigarette packets, making Ireland only the second country to do so after Australia.
Dr Reilly stressed any plans by tobacco companies to sell plain permanent boxes so smokers can transfer cigarettes in to them would be tackled.
"We are in a war while lives are being lost," he said.
Meanwhile health campaigners revealed teenagers would be put off trying smoking for the first time if tobacco was sold in the plain packets covered in graphic images.
Research involving 15 and 16-year-olds found branded packets encourage young people to take up the habit, while smokers would try and quit if all packets were the same.
Dr Reilly said it is unacceptable for a product that kills 5,200 Irish people a year to be packaged in a slim, pink container like a perfume or lipstick.
"Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, we cannot allow deceptive marketing gimmicks to be used to lure our children into a deadly addiction that will ultimately kill half of those who become addicted," he said.
"Standardised packaging is the next logical step in combating this public health epidemic."
The research on teens' views of cigarette marketing, jointly commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society, found cigarettes on sale in Ireland communicate fun and style, and give the perception that smokers look and feel better about themselves.
It found that cost plays a part in stopping teens buying premium brands, but appealing packaging has the power to generate buzz, incentivise a purchase and communicates perceived benefits of one brand over another.
All teenagers surveyed said the new unbranded packets were at odds with the image they want to portray.
Dr Reilly lost his brother, a doctor and smoker, to lung cancer and his father, another smoker, suffered a stroke and was blind for the last 14 years of his life.
He revealed his officials will have to be extra careful when rolling out the legislation as the industry has challenged authorities in Australia to the World Trade Organisation.
The Health Minister stressed he wants the new unbranded packets on sale next year despite objections by lobbyists.
"Then we'll have a big row about them having to use up existing supplies and I'm going to fight them on that because as far as I'm concerned they can use hose supplies somewhere else," he added.
"I want to protect he young people in this country."
Elsewhere Dr Reilly said he is in talks to try and make electronic cigarettes above a certain concentration to be classed as a medicinal product.