A TOBACCO giant has threatened the Government with legal action if plans to enforce plain packaging on cigarettes proceed.
Japan Tobacco International Ireland (JTI) instructed solicitors firm Arthur Cox to issue the warning to Childrens Minister James Reilly, Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week.
The owner of the Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges brands warned that it will initiate a High Court action for damages on Friday unless the plain packaging proposals are scrapped.
The plans were first mooted during Dr Reilly's time as health minister - along with prominent new warnings on packs - with the aim of making tobacco products less attractive
He issued a stern response to the JTI move.
"As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, my responsibility is to progress measures that will stop them from taking up smoking in the first place," he told the Irish Times.
"It is not to protect the profits of tobacco companies."
JTI has claimed that the Government has no right to enact the plain packaging plans pending the outcome of a British case in the Court of Justice of the European Union and seeks an undertaking by Friday that the Government will halt the proposal.
"If this undertaking is not forthcoming, JTI proposes to issue proceedings challenging the competence of Ireland to enact this legislation and, in the absence of an appropriate undertaking in relation to legislation pending the outcome of these proceedings, will seek such relief as is appropriate from the High Court," the legal warning stated.
JTI did not respond to a request for comment this morning.
Earlier this week, JTI accused Dr Reilly of trying to "rush" through the legislation despite the concern at EU level.
The Herald previously revealed 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.
"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 JTI spokesperson said.
JTI is among a number of major tobacco firms to have drawn up strategies aimed at defeating the proposals, including the prospect of mounting legal challenges.
John Player & Sons has sent a four-page document to every TD and senator warning that Dr Reilly's proposals will infringe on its intellectual property rights.
The document 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 the plans.