Ireland could be forced to abandon its plans for plain packaging for cigarettes if the European Commission decides it interferes with the single market.
So far, nine EU countries have written to the Government and the commission saying they have issues with the plan.
As a result, the Government cannot implement the new law until after December 18, and when they have replied to the countries about their reservations.
If the Government does make any changes to the legislation taking into account the countries’ issues, the final draft must also go to the commission’s enterprise directorate, according to the countries’ spokesperson.
The countries’ lawyers will study it to see if it creates obstacles to the single market — which strives to make sure that EU countries do not put up barriers to products produced in other member states.
They could decide it does if the tobacco industry complains that they have to devise separate packaging for the different countries.
Britain has also notified Brussels that it intends to implement plain packaging rules and the French health ministry said last month it will present a similar law in the coming months — but has not officially told the EU yet.
This would help Ireland’s case as far as convincing the commission that the plain packaging would not interfere with the single market.
The revised tobacco rules agreed earlier this year allow countries to introduce plain packaging “where it is justified on the grounds of public health, are proportionate, and do not lead to hidden barriers to trade between member states”.
The countries that have sent detailed opinions to the commission are Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain.
Several of these countries grow tobacco, while others had issues with aspects of the latest legislation.
The tobacco industry is big in Poland, which is the seventh largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the world, and the second largest producer of the crop in the EU, employing more than 60,000 people.
Thousands more are employed in five processing sites and six factories and four big factories.
The Czech’s instigated the opinion among the nine that signed it.
Research by the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group found that British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, “two of the world’s largest tobacco companies, have actively weakened tobacco-control policies in the Czech Republic over the past two decades”.
Among the other measures the new legislation includes is special markings that will tell exactly where the cigarettes have come from, as there are suspicions that some companies are deliberately flooding low-tax regions to encourage their spread illegally into those with higher tax.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved