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Multinational tobacco companies don’t want to see Ireland introduce plain packaging because they know it works, writes Minister James Reilly

Feb 20 2015

James Reilly

CIGARETTE PACKETS ARE now sold in slim packets that resemble lipstick with glitzy colours, creative designs and stylish writing. That is advertising.

Standardised packaging of cigarettes will end this.

All cigarette boxes will be the same shape and size and will feature a graphic picture warning on the front and back of the box. The brand name will be printed in a standardised font and size.

It will strip away the illusions created by shiny, pink packets and replace them with shocking images showing the real consequences of smoking. Cigarette packets will be transformed into grim warnings about the stark realities for smokers.

Let’s dwell on the reality of smoking:

Smoking is responsible for almost one in five of all deaths in Ireland – 5,200 deaths every year; 14 deaths every day.
Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body.
Half of smokers will eventually die from a smoking-related disease.
To maintain smoking rates at their current levels, the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers every day.
78% of smokers start smoking before they are 18 years old – while they are children.

Our smoking rate is falling

The premature death of 5,200 people per year is a major public health concern. But we are tackling it head on. Last year Ireland became one of the few countries in the EU to have a smoking rate under 20%. Our smoking rate has fallen from 33% in 1998 to 19.5% today. Our aim is to have a Tobacco Free Ireland – defined as a smoking rate of less than 5% – by 2025. We are winning this battle thanks to the determination of successive governments.

The smoking ban, the ban on the sale of packets of ten, the ban on the display of cigarettes in shops and consistent tax increases have all contributed to this progress. Our policies are working. We must continue our battle.

Standardised packaging is the next step in driving our smoking rates down further towards achieving a Tobacco Free Ireland.

We know the impact that it will have.

When standardised packaging was introduced in Australia, so many smokers complained that the cigarettes now tasted differently that a tobacco company issued a statement denying that they had changed their ingredients.

Australia’s quitline received a flood of additional calls.

Research from Australia shows that when smoking cigarettes from a plain pack, smokers are:

• 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day and rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives
• 70% more likely to say they found them less satisfying
• 66% more likely to think their cigarettes are of poorer quality

Smoking rates in Australia are now at the lowest level since records began. They are declining at the fastest pace in 20 years.

The tobacco industry is vigorously opposing this legislation

Most importantly, standardised packaging will reduce the number of children who become addicted to a product that kills one in two of its long-term users.

The tobacco industry is vigorously opposing this legislation because they fear it. They fear it because they know that it works. They are afraid that Irish smoking rates will tumble and that others in Europe will follow Ireland and Australia.

It looks like they are right. When Ireland became the second country in the world to commit to passing standardised packaging legislation in May 2013, many countries were waiting for legal proceedings against Australia in the World Trade Organisation to conclude – a process that still has not finished.

Since then, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have progressed legislation in their Parliaments. France, Norway and Finland have all indicated their intention to follow suit. Standardised packaging will be the future of cigarettes – not just in Ireland and Australia but throughout the world.

The tobacco industry will move to protect its profits. However, the State has a moral duty to protect the health of its citizens and to prevent our children from being lured into a killer addiction by marketing gimmicks. This Government will not put the profit of multinational tobacco companies ahead of the future health of our children. What kind of a society would we be if we prioritised the intellectual property rights of the tobacco industry over the future health of our children?

I look forward to progressing this legislation to Report and Final Stage in the very near future.

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