Cancer survivors urge passing of plain pack law

Breda Flood, who has asthma, lung cancer patient Frank Cox, heart attack survivor Charlotte Heaphey, and COPD patient Paula Newman.  Picture Andres Poveda
Breda Flood, who has asthma, lung cancer patient Frank Cox, heart attack survivor Charlotte Heaphey, and COPD patient Paula Newman. Picture Andres Poveda

Lung cancer and heart attack survivors have urged the Government to force through radical changes to cigarette packaging and ignore industry claims the move will only benefit the black market.

The patients made their views on the proposed changes clear before the Oireachtas health committee met to discuss the move yesterday.

Under plans championed by Health Minister James Reilly, cigarette companies could be forced to swap their “attractive” packaging for plain alternatives.

The move is part of measures to stamp out smoking in Ireland over the coming decade by cutting the chances of younger people taking up the habit.

The tobacco industry has claimed the policy will only benefit the counterfeit market as smokers look for options they are used to without feeling as though they are being shamed.

However, speaking at a joint meeting held by the Irish Cancer Society, Irish Heart Foundation, Irish Asthma Society, and children’s rights groups, patients who survived smoking-related illnesses said the move is “crucial” to saving lives.

“I was just 11 when I started smoking,” said one of the smoking survivors, 47-year-old Co Meath mother of two Charlotte, who suffered a heart attack four years ago.

“Not one day goes by now that I don’t think about how close I came to leaving my children without a mother. And all because of cigarettes. As a mother, I am speaking today for the protection of my own children and to support the introduction of plain packaging. As someone who has looked death in the eye, I am here to warn the parents of all children and teens there is nothing good about smoking.”

The comment came as the Oireachtas health committee heard from senior gardaí, Revenue, and HSE officials that — despite tobacco industry claims to the contrary — there is no evidence that plain packaging leads to a rise in counterfeit cigarette sales.

“It has been stated by certain interested parties that the move to plain packaging may lead to an increase in the trade in illicit tobacco products in Ireland,” assistant commissioner, Derek Byrne, told the cross-party committee.

“An Garda Síochána has not, however, been presented with evidence which supports this proposition.

“Those involved in counterfeiting can counterfeit what they need. Changes to plain packaging are not going to impact on this.”

Revenue commissioner assistant secretary, Gerard Moran, mirrored the view, saying the group is “satisfied” the introduction of plain packaging cigarettes “will not change our efforts to tackle the problem [of smoking]”.

He added that any fears a standard cigarette packet style will make it easier for “crime gangs” to copy the items was inaccurate, as “the new packaging rules will ensure effective security features to make that very difficult”.

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