Minister expecting fight on tobacco
The global tobacco industry is terrified of Ireland's plans to push through standardised packaging, the health minister has claimed.
James Reilly said he expects big tobacco firms to launch a smattering of legal challenges against the laws, but insisted the Government will make sure they are airtight.
"I would be astonished if the tobacco industry doesn't fight us tooth and nail on this, because they do more research than anybody and they have billions at their disposal," Dr Reilly said.
"They know it's going to work as well and that's why they're terrified of it. And they are going to leave no stone unturned and no group unsolicited for support to try and block this."
Large graphic images and health warnings will dominate cigarette packets under the new laws, which Dr Reilly said will help achieve his target of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025.
He dismissed concerns that the standardised packaging would make it easier for illicit tobacco traders to peddle their goods.
And he insisted all measures would be taken to ensure the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013 is examined closely and "legally proofed".
"It's about putting another nail in the coffin of these coughing nails," Dr Reilly said.
Ireland is the second country in the world - after Australia - to introduce the plain packaging.
The UK is expected to have completed a review of its benefits by this March, and Scotland and New Zealand have indicated they will follow suit.
Dr Reilly warned the tobacco industry would try to intimidate Ireland.
"It was reported to me that they were in Europe in the Commissioner's office and, I can't verify this, but they were threatening that they would sue Ireland for our national gross domestic products in relation to intellectual property," Dr Reilly said.
"But I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate very clearly that a society that would put the lives and wellbeing of its citizens behind intellectual property rights would be a fairly strange society."
By introducing the laws that make it mandatory for tobacco to be sold in standardised packaging, the Government hopes to make it harder for manufacturers to promote their brand.
The Oireachtas Health Committee has begun discussing the general scheme of the Bill, with an aim to have the new legislation in place in the first half of this year.
The minister declared war on smoking earlier this year when he revealed plans to have a smoke-free Ireland by 2025.
If successful, his campaign will ensure that less than 5% of the population will be smoking in the next 12 years.
Ireland's smoking population is currently around 29% - well above the average among OECD countries at 21%.
Dr Reilly has been touched personally by the suffering caused by smoking after his brother died of lung cancer and his father went blind following a stroke.
Both were smokers and, like Dr Reilly, both were doctors.
Ireland became the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with the workplace smoking ban in 2004.
This was followed by an end to the sale of 10-packs in 2007, a ban on retail displays and adverts in 2009, and picture health warnings on packets this year.
An extension of the smoking ban could extend from the workplace to public areas such as parks and beaches.