Plain tobacco packaging plan at risk due to delay in forming Government
Plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products next year have been thrown into serious doubt as a result of the length of time it has taken to form the new Government.
In the first instance of its kind, the Department of Health has admitted that a major government policy has stalled as a direct result of the "unforeseen and unusual" political impasse.
Former Children's Minister James Reilly had pledged to ensure that plain tobacco products would be on the shelves in 2017 - despite major opposition from the tobacco industry and several EU member states.
However, the Irish Independent has learned that the landmark legislation is facing significant delays in a development that is set to be seized upon by some of the world's largest tobacco firms.
And in a significant admission, the department has directly blamed the stalling of the legislation on the 70-day political impasse that preceded the formation of the Fine Gael-Independents partnership government.
In correspondence with the tobacco industry last week, officials from the department's Tobacco and Alcohol Unit said the "unforeseen and unusual delay in the formation of the Government" had caused the delay in progressing the legislation.
The department has also said it does not yet have a date for when the measures will be dealt with by the Oireachtas.
The implications of the delay in passing the legislation are potentially significant.
The delay will create the potential for fresh legal challenges and lobbying exercises by the tobacco industry in a bid to defeat the measures.
Government sources have also expressed considerable concern about the development, which will now have to be addressed by the new Health Minister Simon Harris.
"The fact that the deadline is this Friday and there are delays down the track regarding plain tobacco products creates a real mess," said a source.
Industry figures are now expected to highlight new statistics released in Australia and claim that smoking rates there have actually increased since plain-packaging laws were introduced in 2012.
The official government statistics show a 6.3pc increase in young women smoking in Australia - the first country to bring in plain tobacco laws.
Prior to the plain packaging legislation being passed, the Irish State must meet a deadline of May 20 laid down by the EU.
All member states must give effect to the EU Tobacco Products' Directive, which is designed to cover two-thirds of a pack of cigarettes in graphic health warnings, ban smaller pouches of rolling tobacco and outlaw menthol and slim cigarette products. Failure to meet the deadline this Friday leaves member states open to hefty fines.
But significantly, the measures lays the legal foundation for plain packaging in Ireland.