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Ireland in plain cigarette pack bid

Ireland has become the first European country to order a ban on branded cigarette packets.

Following the example set by Australia and New Zealand, big tobacco companies will be forced to use standardised packaging and carry harrowing-looking health warnings and images on the boxes and pouches.

If enacted, the new laws will remove all logos, trademarks, colours, designs and graphics except for the make or name of the product which will be in a uniform typeface on a plain background.

The Department of Health said the objective, which is expected to be fiercely contested in the courts by tobacco firms, is to make packets look less attractive, to make health warnings more prominent and to reduce the risk that people, especially children, will be misled about the harmful effects of smoking.

Health Minister James Reilly said the tobacco industry invests heavily in pack design to sell their products.

"Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, it is not acceptable to allow the tobacco industry to use deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure our children into this deadly addiction and to deceive current smokers about the impact of their addiction," Dr Reilly said.

"The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland. Cigarette packets will no longer be a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry."

The Cabinet approved the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 at its weekly meeting.

"This represents a significant step forward in our tobacco control policy and our goal of being a smoke free country by 2025," Dr Reilly added.

Australia introduced plain, non-branded packaging rules in November 2011 and the proposed legislation in New Zealand is going through parliament.

Other European states are understood to be examining similar legislation with plans announced in April in Britain for a consultation on the use of plain packets on shop shelves within a year. Some MPs have since hit out at the proposal.

Approximately 5,200 Irish people die each year from diseases caused by smoking - with one in two of all smokers dying as a result of their addiction.

To maintain smoking rates, it is estimated that the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers every day and in Ireland the age of those taking up the habit is the youngest in Europe - 16.

Dealing with smoking-related disease costs the country's health sector more than 650 million euro (£527 million) a year.

Dr Reilly added: "There is a wealth of international evidence on the effects of tobacco packaging in general and on perceptions and reactions to standardised packaging which support the introduction of this measure. I am confident that the legislation will be supported and justified on public health grounds and by the fact that it will contribute to reducing the number of lives lost by smoking tobacco products."

The Geneva-based World Trade Organization, which governs global commerce rules for 159 countries, is expected to give an initial ruling around the end of the year on challenges to the non-branded packaging laws.

Tobacco-growing nations such as Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have complained along with Indonesia and Ukraine.

Dr Pat Doorley, of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said the toughened laws will reaffirm Ireland's place as a leader in public health legislation on tobacco and will bring significant health benefits for future generations.

"Research on tobacco packaging has shown that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products; that it increases the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and reduces the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products," he said.

"This measure brings us one step closer to the day when children in Ireland can grow up free from tobacco addiction."

Kathleen O'Meara, of the Irish Cancer Society, said the legislation was a landmark move.

"The tobacco industry will continue to argue that plain packaging doesn't work and say that the illicit trade will increase," Ms O'Meara said.

"But the tobacco industry has never had an interest in public health. Their recent attempt at showing the illicit trade in Australia has increased was rubbished by customs officials who said that plain packaging has had 'no impact' on the illicit tobacco trade."

John Player, part of the Imperial Tobacco Group, said the crackdown on packaging may leave the Irish state compensating tobacco companies.

The manufacturer also warned it will robustly defend what it called "its legitimate commercial right to utilise its trade marks to differentiate its brands from those of its legitimate competitors".

"People start smoking due to peer pressure and social influences and not due to branding. That is why plain packaging has not had any impact on smoking rates in Australia and it won't in Ireland either," a spokeswoman said.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) called on the Government to publish the evidence it has to support the introduction of tough new laws.

John Freda, general manager of JTI Ireland, said: "Not only will 'plain' packaging have significant negative impact on business and Ireland's reputation internationally as a protectorate of intellectual property rights, there is absolutely no credible evidence to suggest the measure will actually work and help reduce consumption amongst minors, or lead to any actual health benefits."

Irish manufacturer PJ Carroll, part of British American Tobacco, said: " There is no credible evidence that plain packaging will work in terms of stopping children taking up smoking or encouraging current smokers to quit. Instead, Minister Reilly's plain packaging Bill will simply play into the hands of the criminals who are ready and waiting to supply people, regardless of their age, with cheap tobacco products."

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