SOME of the world's largest tobacco firms are preparing to mount major legal challenges in a bid to block the Government's plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.
The proposals, which are being spearheaded by Children's Minister James Reilly, will be debated in the Oireachtas this week ahead of their planned implementation next year.
But the Herald can reveal that a number of major tobacco firms have drawn up strategies aimed at defeating the proposals, including the prospect of mounting legal challenges.
Tobacco giant John Player & Sons has sent a four-page document to every TD and senator which warns that Dr Reilly's proposals will infringe on its intellectual property rights.
The document, seen by this newspaper, says it is "unlawful for the State to unjustifiably take away or curtail property rights without adequately compensating the brand owner".
The decision by the firm to highlight compensation measures illustrates its willingness to take legal action in a bid to defeat Dr Reilly's plans.
It is the first time John Player Blue has lobbied members of the Oireachtas directly over the issue.
Dr Reilly is understood to be anticipating the prospect of legal challenges but is determined to introduce the new measures before the general election.
It was revealed last week that the plain packaging proposals have been met with an unprecedented level of resistance at an EU level and have been subject to complaints by 10 member states.
The country's largest tobacco firm, Japan Tobacco International, last night accused Dr Reilly of trying to "rush" through the legislation despite the concern at EU level.
"As well as ignoring a wealth of evidence emerging from Australia as to the ineffectiveness of plain packaging in reducing tobacco consumption rates, Minister Reilly's rush to get the policy back before the Oireachtas ignores another glaring fact: the European Court of Justice is yet to decide a question which bears directly on the legality of EU member states introducing such a law," a spokesperson said.
Dr Reilly told the Herald last week that he sees "no need" to amend the legislation despite the level of opposition at an EU level.
"Nothing I have seen or heard from the submissions made to the European Commission has changed my view on the importance of this legislation," the Dublin North TD said.
"I see no need to amend the legislation on the basis of the observations lodged," he added.