Sunday 18 March 2018

Tobacco firm issues new legal threat over State plans

Packing a punch: Graphic health warnings on Australian cigarette packaging
Packing a punch: Graphic health warnings on Australian cigarette packaging

Niall O'Connor and Eilish O'Regan

A SECOND powerful tobacco firm has threatened legal action over the Government's plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarette products, the Irish Independent has learned.

Irish firm John Player has warned both the ministers for health and children that they will be hauled before the courts if the proposals are passed into law.

In a letter through solicitors McCann Fitzgerald, the firm states that the legislation would "unlawfully impair" its client's intellectual property rights.

But the firm's request that the ministers stall plans by the Oireachtas to enact the measures were shot down by Children Minister Dr James Reilly last night. Referring to the letter, and a separate threat by another firm this week, Dr Reilly said the Government would not be "intimidated".

"It's very clear that these are attempts at intimidation. To intimidate a government seems an extraordinary thing to attempt - one which has evoked quite a strong response right across the Oireachtas, both in the Seanad and the Dáil," he told the Irish Independent last night.

John Player is part of the Imperial Tobacco Group, which is seen as one of the world's most successful tobacco firms.

And Japan Tobacco Ireland (JTI) said it would bring the Government to the High Court if it failed to promise by today that no further steps will be taken.

But in an interview with this newspaper, Dr Reilly said he is intent on putting public health first.

"We are proceeding with this legislation to protect the health of our people and to address what is a very serious public health risk."

Dr Reilly said the tobacco industry "has very clearly focused on children", adding that 78pc of smokers start smoking under the age of 18.

Separately, it emerged that a legal firm representing JTI - Arthur Cox solicitors - advises both the HSE and the Child and Family Agency, TUSLA.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday called on the firm to sever its links with the tobacco industry, but said there is no conflict of interest.

A spokesperson for TUSLA said Arthur Cox provides the agency's member firms who undertake childcare applications in court. TUSLA said Arthur Cox does not engage directly in childcare applications but that it is considering its relationship with the firm. Arthur Cox said "no comment".

Charities take on smoking industry

Two of the country's best- known charities are going "head to head" with the tobacco industry on the controversial issue of plain packaging.

The Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation said their joint action is in response to "misinformation" which has been spread on this initiative.

The charities have launched a 'Truth Drive' by sending all 166 TDs a sample version of the proposed "plain packs" cigarette boxes.

The TDs will also be sent background material, which they say will demonstrate how the initiative will not increase smuggling, and will not interfere with intellectual property laws.

Irish Independent

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