Retailers hit out at plain packaging decision

Health Minister announces Government approval for controversial plans to force tobacco companies to use generic packaging



29 May 2013

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Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly has confirmed his plans to introduce legislation for plain packaging on cigarettes. The plans, announced yesterday, are due to be enacted early next year. Ireland will become the second country in the world to introduce plain pack cigarettes. Dr. Reilly said while many arguments will be made against the move, he is confident the legislation will be justified and supported. However, retailing lobby groups have slammed the decision saying it will help criminals and fuel cigarette smuggling.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) Ireland president Joe Sweeny has hit out at the plans. "I support the government in its efforts to curtail the use of tobacco and alcohol. In doing this though, it must seek to find a balance between regulating harmful but legal, taxed behaviour and driving consumers into the black market to buy illicit products from criminals. It’s plain to see the only people who will benefit from the Minister’s announcement will be smugglers and criminals."

Sweeney says previous attempts to reduce the amount of smokers in Ireland, such as the smoking ban and the ban on the display of cigarettes, have failed citing the most recent Eurobarometer, published in May 2012, which put smoking prevalence in Ireland at 29%, above the EU average of 28%. The NFRN says the government should concentrate on tackling the illegal smuggling trade which, it says, is decimating retailers across the country.

"Smoking places an enormous burden of illness and mortality on our society, with over 5,200 people dying every year from tobacco-related diseases. To replace the smokers who quit, the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers in Ireland every day just to maintain smoking rates at their current level," said Dr. Reilly. He added the new plain boxes will be a generic size and colour, and will only feature the brand name on the bottom and a large picture showing the harmful effects of cigarettes. The Minister argued some brands are using attractive, colourful packaging shaped like a perfume box, which he said is aimed at getting the attention of young smokers, particularly girls.

Ireland will become the second country worldwide to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, following Australia.

Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) accused the Minister of ‘not giving a damm’ about independent retailers and said the move will fuel illegal smuggling. Spokesman Benny Gilsenan said: "Minister Reilly has ignored the fact that we have a huge cigarette smuggling problem in this country and that plan packaging will make life easier for smugglers to produce black-market cigarettes."

John Player has also hit out at the plans saying it will not have an effect on the smoking rate. "The Smoking Ban in 2004, the ban on 10s in 2007 and the retail display and advertising ban in 2009 have not had any impact on consumption rates as Eurobarometer smoking rates remain at 29% since 2006. We do not see plain packaging having an impact on consumption rates. Rather, the main impact will be to damage the legitimate industry and retailers while cutting the supply chain costs for criminals" said Andrew Meagher, managing director of John Player. "Picture Health Warnings have only just been introduced in February 2013 and we are surprised that the Minister has not waited to measure the impact of this regulation on smoking rates".

Following the announcement on the proposals, John Freda, general manager of JTI Ireland, commented: "Plain packaging is an unjustified attack on brands. Plain Packaging will not achieve the Government’s aims but will only encourage further growth in illicit trade, which is already estimated by Government to be 20%, as well as infringing upon companies’ legal rights and violating international treaties. Any proposals to unjustifiably take away our intellectual property will only serve the interests of criminal gangs and counterfeiters as plain packaging will make it easier for the underworld to manufacture fakes; putting money in the pockets of criminals and taking money out of the tills of shopkeepers across Ireland."




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