Health department says illicit tobacco not a “central issue”

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The OTC and health department met with members of the retail, hospitality and tobacco trade to discuss the new tobacco law provisions commencing on 1 July



12 June 2009

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At a conference for a select number of invited guests organised by the Office of Tobacco Control,

a representative of the Department of Health and Children said that the illicit selling of tobacco was “not a central issue” for it, although it is “aware” of the problem.

The meeting was held in order to fully explain the legalities of the amended Public Health (Tobacco) Acts (PHTA) that will commence on 1 July.

When asked by the select group representing the grocery, hospitality and tobacco sectors, if the Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) that will be enforcing the PHTA and inspecting premises will be taking an equal interest in persons engaged in illicit tobacco trade, the department claimed it would be “unwise” to send an EHO into “a criminal situation.” And in answer to the question as to whether the tackling of the health and tobacco issue would involve “joined up thinking” between government bodies, the health department responded that while it was concerned with enforcing the PHTA among the legal trade, illicit traders were primarily a matter for the Garda Síochána and Revenue.

Éamonn Rossi, chief executive of the OTC, said however that members of the legal trade aware of any illegal activity in relation to tobacco could report it by phoning the OTC’s lo-call compliance line.

All businesses engaged in the selling of tobacco products will be subject to the new provivions of the PHTA which will commence in full on 1 July. The legislation prescribes that cigarettes and other tobacco products must from that date be kept out of view in a closed container, and no tobacco related advertising, promotional materials, or proof of age signs may be kept on the prmeises.

Only an official prescribed sign can be displayed to advertise the sale of tobacco products and all premises on the tobacco register must display the sign. Tobacco traders must register with the OTC between 1 July and 1 October, paying a fee of €50, and new stores can apply to register from 1 July, including those due to open at a later date.

Premises found to be in contravention of the PHTA in respect of any of its provisions will be removed from the tobacco register for three months. Although new legislation has been agreed to allow a judge discretion to apply a shorter ban, this amendment has not yet been passed by the Dáil, but the department remains “hopeful” that it will be passed by 1 July.

The health department said that EHOs must “be practical” about issues such as stock-taking and restocking, or opening a container’s door to obtain product for a customer, although whether or the not the exposure of tobacco products contravenes the law will be a matter of their judgement. Clear guidelines on safe procedures for carrying out these activities cannot be provided, the department said.

John Player & Sons’ Deirdre Healy said that ‘out of stocks’ now pose a risk for many stores as the product will not be visible to staff during the day. She said that retailers will have to apply scientific category management in stocking their containers in order to avoid the problem. Typically, 95% of the category’s value comes from the 30 top-selling SKUs. Healy says retailers “can’t go wrong” if they stock accordingly, as well as catering proportionally for local preferences.

According to Healy, illicit tobacco trade now poses the greatest threat to the industry however. Recent surveys carried out at large events revealed that as many as four out of every 10 packs are not supplied in Ireland. 



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