The Health Minister James Reilly has revealed his father and brother died from smoking-related illness as Ireland becomes only the second country to clamp down on tobacco marketing.
Ireland will force tobacco manufacturers to use plain boxes emblazoned with graphic images under tough new laws first enforced in Australia.
James Reilly, the country’s health minister and a GP, said the initiative will stop big cigarette companies from using marketing tactics like packet size, colour and style to attract young smokers, particularly girls.
Dr Reilly said he had been touched personally by suffering caused by smoking after his brother died of lung cancer and his father went blind following a stroke.
Both were smokers and both were doctors.
“I lost a brother who was a doctor, who understood fully what the cigarettes did, who was so addicted he couldn’t give them up,” Dr Reilly said.
“And my father was prematurely blind because of a stroke and spent the last 14 years of his life without being able to see.”
The Health Minister said the anti-smoking agenda was important to him both personally and professionally, having seen so much suffering throughout his medical career.
“It’s not that I have got any personal grudge but I have experienced personally the harm and damage that these (cigarettes) do and I don’t want to have other families have to endure what we endured,” he said.
Dr Reilly’s father, Dr Noel Reilly, who suffered a stroke after years of smoking, was a well-known senior figure within Ireland’s medical profession.
He served as secretary general of the Irish Medical Association, which preceded the Irish Medical Organisation of which the health minister is a former president.
Ireland follows Australia as the second country globally to legislate for the plain packaging of tobacco products.
The Republic has been at the forefront of efforts to curb smoking – it was the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with a workplace smoking ban in 2004, followed by an end to the sale of ten packs in 2007, a ban on retail displays and adverts in 2009 and picture health warnings on packets this year.
Dr Reilly said while many arguments will be made against the move, he is confident the legislation will be enacted early next year and supported purely by the fact that it will save lives.
“Smoking places an enormous burden of illness and mortality on our society, with over 5,200 people dying every year from tobacco-related diseases,” said Dr Reilly.
“One in two of all smokers will die from their addiction.
“To replace the smokers who quit, the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers in Ireland every day just to maintain smoking rates at their current level.
“Given that 78% of smokers in a survey said they started smoking under the age of 18, it’s clear that the tobacco industry focuses on children to replace those customers who die or quit.”
Under the reform, cigarette boxes in Ireland 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.
Dr Reilly said some cigarette brands are using attractive, colourful packaging shaped like a perfume box, which he claims is aimed at attracting new smokers.
“The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland,” Dr Reilly added.
“Cigarette packets will no longer be a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry.”
The announcement was made ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Friday, which is themed “ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”.
The Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation welcomed the announcement, which was criticised by retailers and tobacco firms.
The big tobacco companies claimed the move will do more harm to the economy by making smuggling easier rather than stopping children from taking up the habit.
John Freda, of JTI Ireland (Japan Tobacco International), claimed: “There is a complete absence of credible evidence to demonstrate that plain packaging will lead to a reduction in youth smoking.”
Andrew Meagher, managing director of John Player, said: “This decision plays into the hands of the criminal gangs who profit from counterfeit tobacco; their job will be significantly easier now that all tobacco products are intended to be sold in the same generic packaging.”
Meanwhile, Dr Ross Morgan, chairman of anti-smoking lobby Ash Ireland, said plain packets are needed to compete with the tactics of tobacco companies.
“Plain packaging is a vitally important tool in tackling the slick marketing of the tobacco industry – and their specific skill at making these killer products seem attractive for young people,” he said.
A senator in the Irish parliament has also produced proposed legislation to outlaw smoking in cars carrying children.
The UK Government has put similar plans for an end to branded cigarette packs on the backburner.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said Ireland has always been ahead of the UK on the issue.
“The UK Government should follow Ireland’s lead, stop dithering and commit to implementing standardised packaging without further delay. This will be both popular and effective, there’s no need to wait any longer,” she said.
Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) accused the minister of “not giving a damn” about independent retailers and fuelling the illicit tobacco trade.
RAS spokesman Benny Gilsenan said plain packaging would only benefit criminals.
“Minister Reilly has ignored the fact that we have a huge cigarette smuggling problem in this country and that plain packaging will make life easier for smugglers to produce black-market cigarettes,” he said.
“If plain packaging is brought in, it will be yet another nail in the coffin for small retail businesses around the country."