Friday 20 July 2018

Tobacco giants threaten to 'undermine' Ireland's economy in an attempt to block plain-packaging laws

The plain packaging laws, spearheaded by former health minister James Reilly, former junior health minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, are due to come into effect from September 30. Stock picture
The plain packaging laws, spearheaded by former health minister James Reilly, former junior health minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, are due to come into effect from September 30. Stock picture
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Tobacco giants threatened to take measures that could undermine Ireland's economic recovery as part of their attempt to block the Government's plain packaging laws, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The lengths to which the world's most powerful tobacco firms went to in order to block our legislation are detailed for the first time in secret correspondence with EU bosses.

Letters obtained by this newspaper show how three major firms told former commissioner Olli Rehn that the proposed measures would undermine both the Irish and EU recovery.

One letter stated how tobacco firms were prepared to "seek compensation for damages" which could "undermine savings" and "negatively impact the Irish economy".

The same correspondence adds that such a legal avenue would "not help the overall EU economic situation."

Sources close to the Government here stated that the correspondence, which has never been released, illustrates the huge efforts taken by the tobacco industry to defeat the Government's plans.

The plain packaging laws, spearheaded by former health minister James Reilly, former junior health minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, are due to come into effect from September 30.

Health Minister Simon Harris will formally introduce the measures when the Dáil returns following the summer recess.

For the first time, packets will not contain any logos or branding. But any products already manufactured by September 30 may be sold for another year, under the legislation being brought in.

Ireland is the fourth country to bring the measures in, after Australia, the UK and France.

But all EU 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.

Delay

Ireland would have been the first EU country to bring the measures in, however the length of time taken to form a new administration in 2016 resulted in an unexpected delay.

The letter to Mr Rehn was sent by The Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM), which represents three major Europe-based cigarette manufacturers - British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group and JT International - in September 2013.

"We will defend our intellectual property rights and if necessary will seek compensation for damages, the level of which could be quite significant. It is to be expected that this will undermine savings achieved in the anticipated public expenditure cuts in Ireland in 2014 and hence will negatively impact the Irish economy," the letter stated.

"During a time of economic and financial crisis, this will not help improve the overall EU economic situation and we would appreciate an opportunity for an exchange of views with you on this matter. We will contact your office in the coming days regarding a possible date for a meeting," it added.

It's not known whether Mr Rehn did in fact meet the tobacco giants.

While the industry has for years lobbied against the introduction of the new measures, sources with specific knowledge of their efforts say this letter detailed the most severe of threats seen from an Irish perspective.

Irish Independent

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