Law Society defends packaging stance

The Law Society of Ireland has defended its stance on proposed legislation which would introduce plain packaging for all tobacco products amid accusations that it has sided with tobacco manufacturers on the issue.

Law Society president John Shaw yesterday insisted it was “not in the pocket of anyone”.

The Irish Cancer Society had hit out at the group for adopting the same position and language on the legislation as the tobacco industry.

Mr Shaw told the Oireachtas Health Committee that the Law Society had concerns about the legal implications of the General Scheme of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2003 in terms of its effect on intellectual property rights.

He expressed concern about the lack of any regulatory impact assessment on the proposed legislation, given that 138,000 people were directly employed in Ireland in knowledge-intensive industries where intellectual property was a key asset.

A fully-functioning intellectual property system providing certainty is vital for the future of the EU and Irish economies, he said.

Mr Shaw said any legislation seeking to limit the branding of cigarettes needed to be proportionate and strike the right balance.

He warned the Government it risked legal action if legislation ran in contravention of obligations under the World Trade Organisation.

However, Mr Shaw acknowledged that the Government had a right to a derogation from such rules on grounds of public health, He noted that tobacco products had a “disastrous” effect on health.

The Law Society was criticised by senator Jillian van Turnhout for failing to show the “clear links” between the members of its intellectual property committee and the tobacco industry in a declaration of interest sent to the Oireachtas committee. “The tentacles of the tobacco industry are everywhere,” Ms van Turnhout said. However, Mr Shaw insisted the Law Society had not been influenced by anyone in the tobacco industry in arriving at its views. The Irish Cancer Society said its own legal advice is that the legislation was a proportional response to the fact that tobacco killed half its users and resulted in 5,200 deaths in Ireland every year. It pointed out that a challenge to similar legislation in Australia on intellectual property grounds had failed.

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