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Tobacco firms' secret lobbying

TOBACCO companies and influential business figures have lobbied the Government extensively over its plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarette packs.

The Herald has exclusively obtained copies of correspondence between the Department of Health, Ministers and the manufacturers of tobacco products between May and December last year, by use of the Freedom of Information Act.

March 24 will mark 10 years since the smoking ban was introduced and the number of smokers has now fallen to under 20pc.

And the plan is that this rate will have dropped further – to under 5pc – by 2025.

According to the Department of Health, they are in the process of drafting the standardised packaging legislation.

Standardised packaging means that all forms of branding – trademarks, logos, colours and graphics – would be removed, except for the tax stamp, other legal requirements, brand name and variant, which would be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands on the market.

Over 5,200 people die here every year from disease caused by tobacco use, with 44pc of the deaths attributed to cancers.

ASH Ireland is in favour of plain packaging as is the the Irish Cancer Society.

However, the plan is not being welcomed with open arms by the tobacco companies who will be directly affected.

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Among those who sent correspondence were JTI Ireland, a leading tobacco company in the Irish market.

Among the global flagship brands it sells are Benson and Hedges, Silk Cut, Winston and Camel.

John Freda, GM of JTI Ireland, wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, Health Minister James Reilly, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and Finance Minister Michael Noonan, with concerns about plain packaging last year.

In his letter to the Health Minister James Reilly last July, he wrote: "JTI believes that appropriate and proportionate regulation of the industry is both necessary and right. JTI shares a common goal with regulators; minors should not smoke, and should not be able to obtain tobacco products."

However, he also said so-called plain packaging represents an "extraordinary deprivation of JTI's most valuable assets – its brands and trademarks."

Mr Freda's letter to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore last June, warned of the danger to Ireland's global business reputation. He wrote: "International investors would rightly be wary of investing in a country that fails to protect basic business freedoms and destroys intellectual property wholesale.

"No Government should introduce a measure depriving businesses of key assets without clear and reliable evidence it will work."

It is not just only cigarette companies who are concerned.

The Emergency Committee for American Trade, sent a letter signed by six US trade associations to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan last June, expressing its significant concerns.

Steve Aiken, the CEO of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce also wrote to Finance Minister Michael Noonan last October flagging concerns about the impact of the legislation on the impact of jobs in Northern Ireland.

Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS), wrote to Health Minister James Reilly in July to say they were concerned that plain packaging could lead to a potential boost in the illicit trade of cigarettes.

Meanwhile, Martin Inkster, the MD of UK and Ireland's branches of Philip Morris – which includes Marlboro in its brands – sent information on the legal implications of the proposed packaging measures to Health Minister James Reilly last June, which had been prepared by a senior counsel.

He wrote again in August saying Philip Morris was looking forward to participating in the forthcoming consultation process.

FDILLON@HERALD.IE


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