Minister Reilly rejects criticism of his tobacco plans
CHILDREN'S Minister James Reilly is forging ahead with plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco - despite an unprecedented level of opposition from fellow EU member states.
The Fine Gael politician told the Irish Independent last night that the measures will prove instrumental in reducing the number of young children who take up smoking.
A total of 10 member states have objected to the plans to introduce standardised tobacco products, including Hungary, Poland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The number has risen over recent weeks as concern grows that Ireland's initiative will have an adverse affect on the EU single market.
The European Commission this week told Dublin MEP Brian Hayes that the level of objections from our EU neighbours was unprecedented for Ireland. Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Hayes said the level of unease among other member states illustrated that Ireland was "far ahead" in terms of addressing the abuse of tobacco.
"This is the highest number of objections a piece of Irish legislation has received and indicates Europe's reluctance to follow Ireland's lead on tackling tobacco use," he said.
The legislation to introduce plain packaging is due to return in front of the Oireachtas on February 16, before being signed into law prior to the summer recess.
The new law, which is expected to be brought into force in the middle of 2016, is likely to be met by legal challenges from tobacco companies.
But despite the unprecedented level of opposition, Dr Reilly said he had "no intention" of amending the proposals.
"Nothing I have seen or heard from the submissions made to the European Commission has changed my view on the importance of this legislation," he told this newspaper.
"I see no need to amend the legislation on the basis of the observations lodged.
"I will be back in the Dáil shortly to press forward with a law that I expect will reduce the number of young people and children taking up this killer addictive habit in the first place.
"And I am delighted that certain other EU countries have indicated that they also aim to bring in plain packaging," he added.
The member states which have complained also include Czech Republic, Greece, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. The UK - which is planning to follow Ireland's lead - made a submission to the Commission supporting the proposals.
Central to the concerns raised by the member states in relation to Ireland's move is the potential interference with property rights and the impact on the freedom of movement of goods.
But Dr Reilly, the Fine Gael deputy leader, is adamant the measures will have a profound impact in terms of tackling tobacco addiction in this country.
The Minister and his officials are braced for a flurry of legal challenges to the legislation, known as the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014'.
This week, the North's Health Minister Jim Wells backed plans to introduce standardised tobacco packets. Politicians in Scotland and France have already signalled their support for a similar approach.
In the UK, MPs will vote on the measures before the General Election.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the measures are being brought in as part of a wider approach to tackling tobacco addiction.
◊ A ban on sale of tobacco products to individuals under 18 years of age (2001);
◊ Work-place smoking ban (2004);
◊ A ban on packets containing less than 20 cigarettes (2007);
◊ A ban on the sale of confectioneries that resemble cigarettes (2007).