Tobacco giants Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT) have brought proceedings in the European Court of Justice over an EU directive which will make health warnings cover 65% of cigarette packets.
Ireland plans to go further and bring in plain packaging on tobacco products, a plan driven by Minister for Children James Reilly.
The minister told the Irish Examiner that Ireland would fight court proceedings, both here and abroad.
Tobacco companies claim the EU directive is against free movement of goods in the union and the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, where issues are decided by states rather than by the EU.
Japan Tobacco began a separate action against Ireland in April in the commercial court. The judge has indicated that if the ECJ rules in favour of the directive, the State will win the case here at home.
Japan Tobacco claims Ireland, as a member of the EU, cannot unilaterally introduce plain packaging on products and such a move would prevent trade between member states. The company adds that plain packaging imposes stricter rules than those necessary under the EU directive.
On December 23, the ECJ will give a preliminary judgement in the case Philip Morris and BAT have against the EU Directive. In most cases, the court’s final decision follows few months after the opinion published by the advocate general.
Mr Reilly, when he was minister for health, promised to make Ireland smoke free by 2025.
Under his plain packaging proposals, trademarks, logos, colours and graphics will be banned from tobacco products. Packs will be plain or neutral in colour, except for the mandatory health warnings.
Since becoming minister for children, Mr Reilly has carried over his anti-smoking proposals. He insisted that Ireland and the EU would await the outcome of the tobacco company challenges this month.
“We will defend our right to put the future health of our children ahead of the profits of the tobacco industry in any domestic or international court. We will not give the tobacco industry a veto over our public health policy,” said Mr Reilly.
Government ministers have faced pressure from businesses and campaigners to scrap plain packaging tobacco proposals.
US congressmen have also written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny saying the plans would mark the “beginning of a troubling trend” of countries restricting the intellectual property of products.
A previous report for the Department of Health concluded that plain packaging increased the numbers who would quit and helped denormalise tobacco use.
Tobacco companies dispute this, and also say that the numbers of smokers in countries with plain packaging does not drop.