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Friday 19 September 2014

Setback for Reilly's anti-smoking crusade as PJ Carroll wins case

Published 18/05/2014 | 02:30

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Health Minister James Reilly's new Universal Health Insurance plans may result in even more charges for a hard-pressed public. Photo: Collins
Health Minister James Reilly's new Universal Health Insurance plans may result in even more charges for a hard-pressed public. Photo: Collins

HEALTH Minister James Reilly has lost the latest battle in his war on tobacco giants.

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The Sunday Independent has learned that the HSE has been forced to pay €5,000 in legal costs to PJ Carroll over a failed legal action against the cigarette company.

The bill, which will ultimately be met by the taxpayer, is a major embarrassment to the HSE and Dr Reilly, whose Department of Health is engaged in a bitter war of attrition with Big Tobacco over plain packaging and other measures to control smoking.

The latest skirmish involved a prosecution taken by the Office of Tobacco Control, an agency under the control of the HSE, against Carroll's, which is part of the international conglomerate British American Tobacco (BAT).

A second similar action was also taken against multi-national tobacco giant John Player but was abandoned after the first action against Carroll's had been dismissed in the courts.

Lesser legal costs relating to the action against Player were also paid to that company by the HSE.

At the heart of the cases were promotions run by Carroll's within the trade aimed at retailers.

The company ran the promotion as it changed its Winston brand into a new brand called 'Pall Mall'.

The company sent teams of mystery shoppers to retailers around the country to buy the Carroll's product.

If the retailer or sales assistant used a key promotional phrase while completing the transaction of Winston/Pall Mall cigarettes, they won a €30 voucher and entry into a draw for bigger prizes.

The Office of Tobacco Control took action in the District Court, alleging that the promotion amounted to a financial assistance to retailers to promote tobacco products.

However, the District Court dismissed the case and the Office of Tobacco Control then appealed to the High Court, which again dismissed the action and awarded costs to PJ Carroll.

In its judgement, the High Court found that the action of the tobacco company in offering sales assistants a €30 voucher was a "prize" or "award" and did not constitute legal assistance, Retail News reported.

During the initial action by the Office of Tobacco Control, their inspectors seized promotional products from retailers and warned retailers that they faced being banned from selling cigarettes and other tobacco for up to 90 days.

After the High Court action against Carroll's had failed, separate litigation against John Player was then withdrawn.

In the Seanad last month, Dr Reilly defended the delay in implementing new laws designed to stop smoking in cars and other vehicles when children are present.

Dr Reilly said care had to be taken because the powerful smoking lobby could delay proceedings through the courts.

"It looks so simple from the outside but can get very complicated when so many departments are involved," he added.

The minister warned the Seanad that the tobacco industry would bring its "considerable forces and might to bear . . . to frustrate our attempts to protect our children from the killer effects of tobacco".

Sunday Independent

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