Tobacco brand ban ‘will have no impact’

'Mr Big Tobacco' sneaks into Leinster House as Millie Sunderland,  Ringsend and Charlotte Stafford,  Sandyford, both 3, protest the tobacco industry's attendance at the Oireachtas Committee on Health. Picture Andres Poveda

The three main tobacco groups in Ireland have claimed legislation proposed by Health Minister James Reilly to ban all branding on cigarettes will have no impact on smoking levels and will only increase the trade in illegal cigarettes.

Representatives of PJ Carroll, John Player, and Japan Tobacco International claimed similar legislation introduced in late 2012 had produced no evidence to show that plain packaging on tobacco products reduced the number of people smoking.

They also warned that the proposed ban on branding of tobacco products would impact on Ireland’s reputation as a location for foreign direct investment because it would be seen as an attack on intellectual property rights.

The Oireachtas Committee on Health heard that the black market for tobacco products had grown by 13% since the ban on tobacco branding came into effect in Australia. The size of the market for illegal cigarettes in Ireland is estimated to be at least €240m.

Steven Donaldson, general manager of PJ Carroll in Ireland, said he fully accepted that smoking caused serious and fatal diseases.

However, he claimed the proposed legislation was disproportionate, as tobacco packaging had no impact on whether people started or stopped smoking.

Andrew Meagher, managing director of John Player, said Germany had reduced its smoking levels through a focus on education.

He told the committee that 28% of Irish smokers had started smoking before the age of 15 compared to just 17% in Germany.

Less draconian measures than mandatory plain packaging are available, said Mr Meagher.

However, the tobacco firms were sharply criticised by members of the Health Committee with Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher describing them as an “insidious, invasive industry” which had targeted children in many countries around the world.

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