Ireland to adopt standardised tobacco packaging

In collaboration with the Press Association

Ireland could become only the second country in the world to ban branding from cigarette packaging.

Legislation forcing tobacco companies to use generic packaging should be enacted early next year, according to the country's health minister, Dr James Reilly.

The minister said smoking places "an enormous burden of illness and mortality" on Irish society, with over 5,200 people dying every year from tobacco-related diseases.

"One in two of all smokers will die from their addiction," Dr Reilly added.

"To replace the smokers who quit, the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers in Ireland every day just to maintain smoking rates at their current level.

"Given that 78 per cent of smokers in a survey said they started smoking under the age of 18, it's clear that the tobacco industry focuses on children to replace those customers who die or quit."

At present cigarette brands use colourful packaging geared at winning the attention of young smokers, especially girls, Dr Reilly said.

The new cigarette packs will be an unattractive olive or dark brown colour, covered by a health warning that makes up 75 per cent of the pack and feature a standard text font and size.

The move to plain, standardised packaging has been warmly welcomed by charities including the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

"In Ireland, children start smoking at a younger age than in any other European country because the tobacco industry has been so successful in marketing cigarettes here," Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society said.

Australia is the only country to have already legislated for the plain packaging of tobacco products, introducing them in December 2012.

But the Australian experience suggests the tobacco industry is unlikely to accept the law change without a fight, Ms O'Meara added.

The tobacco industry has released a slew of studies in recent years purporting to show that smuggling is on the rise in a bid to scupper the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging and other anti-smoking measures.

But the findings of the independent HM Revenues & Customs (HMRC) figures actually show that tougher enforcement measures have seen the illicit market halve since the late 1990s.

Both adults and adolescents perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing, less palatable, less satisfying and of lower quality compared to cigarettes in current packaging, UK research has found.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and information, said: "This is fantastic news and we welcome the strong political leadership from the Irish government.

"We continue to wait for an announcement from the UK government. We urge them to respond as soon as possible and show their support for plain standardised packs.

"Every day more than 500 under 16s start smoking in the UK - every day's delay will see more lives being affected by this addiction. Plain, standardised packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking."

Copyright Press Association 2013