TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly were involved in a furious round of last-minute lobbying across the EU to push through tough anti-smoking laws, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The diplomatic offensive helped secure the decision by the European Parliament to approve measures that will mean graphic health warnings will take up more than half the cover of a pack of 20 cigarettes. Packets of 10 cigarettes, already banned in Ireland, will also now be outlawed across the EU.
All cigarettes will have to carry larger warnings about the health risks of tobacco, covering 65 per cent of the packet by 2016, compared to around 40 per cent currently.
But that last initiative nearly fell as MEPs came under pressure from tobacco firms who had more than 160 lobbyists working to stymie new EU controls.
On September 4, about 90 out of 274 members of the European Peoples' Party (EPP), the biggest political party in the European Parliament, held a meeting and decided that the health warnings on packs should be 50 per cent of the pack.
But after news of the decision to water down the original proposal emerged, Mr Kenny and Mr Reilly personally contacted all members of the EPP, to which Fine Gael is affiliated, asking them to reverse the decision.
The Taoiseach wrote a personal letter countersigned by Mr Reilly pointing out that 700,000 Europeans will die from smoking this year and that there was clear evidence that larger warnings on packs discouraged smoking.
The lobbying, on what became known as Amendment 97, also required that the Irish Government secure signatures from MEPS to reverse the decision. The lobbying worked and, eventually, the EPP backed the original 65 per cent proposal approved last week by parliament.
Meanwhile, new research has found that smoking is more dangerous than previously thought. Research by the Australian National University says three out of every four smokers will die from a smoking-related illness.
Meanwhile, the Irish Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) have responded to Mr Reilly's plan to introduce plain packing for all cigarettes.
"When Minister Reilly considers that Irish smokers should be subjected to the same plain packaging for their cigarettes as their Australian counterparts, it is important to state that Australia has a very different regime of border protection," CSNA CEO Vincent Jennings said.
"Australian Customs and Border Protection Services have set a limit of 50 cigarettes, regardless of how or where they were purchased as the maximum limit allowed for entrants, domestic and visitor, in the country.
"The level of tobacco consumed in Ireland that has not had Irish duty paid upon it is currently, according to Revenue and Department of Health surveys, 23 per cent of all cigarettes smoked. This is made up of 15 per cent illegal (smuggled) and eight per cent tax paid outside the State.