Deadline on tobacco firm’s legal bid goes up in smoke

The tobacco firm which threatened the State with a multimillion-euro legal action unless it scrapped plans for plain cigarette packets by Friday had yet to contact the Government over its refusal to bow to lobbying pressure last night.

Neither the Department of Health nor the Department of Children had been sent any letter or legal writ at the time of going to press, after Health wrote back to the firm to say the policy will be implemented.

The ministers for the departments, Leo Varadkar and James Reilly, received legal letters from Arthur Cox solicitors on behalf of Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges makers JTI Ireland in recent days insisting the proposed policy must be binned by Friday.

It specifically alleged that the plain packaging did not lead to a drop in smoker numbers when introduced in Australia — a claim rejected by health bodies — infringed on tobacco firms’ intellectual property rights and should be blocked until a UK court challenge concludes as it will impact on EU rules.

Despite the warning and separate pressure from business groups concerned over the impact on jobs, the Government has held firm, with the Department of Health writing to JTI Ireland yesterday saying it will not scrap the plan.

In a rare show of unity, the Oireachtas health committee unanimously supported the bill to introduce plain packs by May 2017 on Tuesday, with the legislation set to be passed into law barring a major Dáil or Seanad U-turn in the coming weeks.

The cross-party committee sent out a joint statement last night voicing “unconditional, unanimous support” for the Government plan.

It had been anticipated that the move would lead to JTI Ireland informing the Coalition that it will now seek compensation over the measures.

Despite the firm’s own deadline for Government to scrap the plan last night, no such correspondence had been received.

JTI Ireland and Arthur Cox declined to comment on the matter yesterday.


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