While much discussion around changes in tobacco legislation surrounds the adoption of plain packaging, the introduction of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, expected to come into force in May of next year, will also deliver important changes. Martina Branconi, P. J. Carroll’s new government affairs manager, highlights the developments retailers need to know
15 October 2015 | 0
Congratulations on your new role Martina. Is there such a thing as a ‘typical day’ in your new position as government affairs manager? If so, what does this entail?
Thank you! I am delighted with my new appointment and I am looking forward to the challenges that this new position entails. Ireland is at the forefront in terms of tobacco control measures and so as government affairs manager, I have to monitor them and understand which could impact the company’s business, whilst also trying to solicit an open and evidence-based debate on regulation. That, in my opinion, is the only way to get balanced legislative measures to both effectively pursue health objectives and to allow manufacturers of tobacco products to continue carrying out their legitimate business. No two days in my new role in Ireland have been the same! The role is really interesting and stimulating!
What are your thoughts on ‘Tobacco Free Ireland’ which plans to lower Ireland’s smoking prevalence rate to less than 5% by 2025?
P. J. Carroll acknowledges that risks are associated with its products and it fully supports any initiative, campaign, educational programme and legislative provision that can effectively contribute to the reduction of smoking incidence. At the same time, P. J. Carroll believes that regulation must be evidence-based and balanced, meaning that we do not support regulatory initiatives only aimed at affecting the tobacco industry.
What are the upcoming legislative changes relating to tobacco that retailers should be aware of? How do you believe these will affect retailers?
Most of the focus at the moment is based around plain packaging; however it is not the only legislative provision retailers will have to deal with in the near future. In fact, as part of the European Union, Ireland is requested to implement the Tobacco Products Directive, an EU directive that will impose further requirements for the manufacture, distribution and sale of tobacco products. For example, the directive imposes pictorial health warnings occupying 65% of front and back of the pack and textual health warnings on 50% of both sides of the pack. It also limits the use of certain ingredients in the manufacturing of tobacco products and establishes minimum quantities for cigarette and fine cut packs. All this is expected to come into force as of May 2016, but we are still waiting for the government to transpose the directive into the Irish legislation.
What are the ramifications of plain packaging for both retailers and tobacco manufacturers?
Plain packaging means that all packs of cigarettes and fine cut (roll your own) tobacco will be manufactured in a standardised shape and colour. These packs will be devoid of any branding. The brand name and variant name of the product must be printed in a specified font and size. This new regulation will definitely impact manufacturers, who will be forced to redesign all their packs according to the new provisions thus depriving them of their intellectual property rights associated with their brands. Plain packaging will also have a huge impact on retailers. In fact, it will become very difficult to differentiate products: they won’t be able to rely on the colours, or the tar and nicotine levels, which will disappear from the pack as well. P. J. Carroll is working hard to assist retailers with the transition from current to plain packaging packs; we will endeavor to make it as straightforward as possible for our customers – providing guidance on the new provisions and on the new appearance of the products once the regulation is implemented.
How has PJ Carroll responded to plain packaging legislation?
As a company doing legitimate business in Ireland, we don’t understand the rationale behind the decision of the government to introduce legislation that aims at standardising cigarette and fine cut tobacco packs. We welcome any balanced and evidence-based regulatory measures and we are fully aware of the risks associated with the products we manufacture. But there is no conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of plain packaging as a tobacco control measure. Standardising packs means depriving companies of their right to use their trademarks in Ireland and without trademarks consumers will struggle to differentiate one product from another. This hampers quality assurance for both retailers and consumers, and makes counterfeiting much easier. We believe alternatives to plain packaging exist. Differences can be made in terms of reducing tobacco smoking incidence by enforcing existing laws and engaging in retail campaigns to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors (Show me I. D. is a very good example), as well as targeted education and awareness programmes.
What measures do you think should be introduced to curb the illicit tobacco market in Ireland?
Illicit trade of tobacco products remains a huge problem in Ireland. The profits of the criminal organisations involved in this illegal activity represent big losses in terms of state revenues, also affecting retailers’ legal business. P. J. Carroll does not think that plain packaging will help to address the problem. In fact, a standardised pack makes it easier for criminals to counterfeit it. We believe that an effective enforcement of the current legislation is definitely a good tool to fight illicit trade. The Revenue Commissioners and An Garda Síochana are already doing a very good job, evidenced by the reported increased number of seizures of illegal products. We also think that educational campaigns for consumers could help by raising awareness of this issue and the consequences in terms of losses for government, manufacturers and retailers, but also on the public health and security risks associated with the purchase of an illegal product.