The Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation said the introduction of generic packaging would mean children would be less likely to start smoking, and called on the Government to introduce the ban on cigarette packaging as soon as possible.
The Cabinet yesterday backed the plan by Health Minister James Reilly to draft legislation that he expects to have prepared by the autumn and enacted next year.
The aim is to make tobacco packets look less attractive and make health warnings more prominent.
“In Ireland, children start smoking at a younger age than in any other European country because the tobacco industry has been so successful in marketing cigarettes here,” said Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society.
The Irish Heart Foundation said British research showed that plain packaging was a powerful weapon in making smoking less appealing..
“The faster it is introduced, the more lives will ultimately be saved and the minister’s strong stance on this issue should be applauded by every parent in Ireland,” said Chris Macey, its head of advocacy.
However, the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee said the planned legislation would make it easier for criminals to reproduce counterfeit packs, saving them time and resources.
“Ireland is already a haven for illegal tobacco smugglers and sellers and this legislation will simply increase the appeal of the market to international crime gangs,” said a spokesman for the group.
Retailers Against Smuggling accused Dr Reilly of not “giving a damn” about independent retailers. “If plain packaging is brought in, it will be yet another nail in the coffin for small retail businesses around the country,” said Benny Gilsenan, spokesman for the group.
The Asthma Society of Ireland said the proposed restrictions on cigarette packaging was good news for the 470,000 people in Ireland with asthma because tobacco smoke was one of the most common asthma triggers.