Ireland passes plain packaging of tobacco law as UK anticipates legal battle

Guy Bentley
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Ireland passes first plain packaging law in EU (Source: Getty)

The Republic of Ireland has become the first country in the EU to pass a law requiring the plain packaging of cigarettes.

The bill, which must be signed by the country's President, makes Ireland only the second country in the world to remove branding from tobacco products.

The packaging will be dark and plastered with warnings about the dangers of smoking. The new law is expected to come into force in 2017.

Minister for children and youth affairs James Reilly, explained the reasoning behind the legislation:

Standardised packaging will strip away the illusions created by shiny, colourful cigarette packets, and replace them with shocking images showing the real consequences of smoking.

The law could embroil the Irish government in a costly legal battle with leading tobacco manufacturers. Japan Tobacco International, owner of Benson & Hedges, warned the government they would go to the High Court to claim for damages if the law passed. JTI was joined by Imperial Tobacco Group.

The government says it is prepared for the challenge. "The Attorney General has her team together and we fully expect, once the legislation is enacted and commenced, that they will probably file a lawsuit", Reilly said when asked about a challenge.

In a move that took many by surprise, UK health minister Jane Ellison announced last month that legislation on plain packaging would be introduced and voted on before Parliament is dissolved on 30 March.

Conservative MPs, who believed the measures had been kicked into the long grass, have been vocally hostile to the move, which many see as a distraction and contrary to conservative principles.

In January, Tory MP Nick de Bois, said the policy “leaves the UK taxpayer with a potential compensation claim of billions. The Treasury must be horrified by this move".

It is thought that up to 100 Conservative MPs could defy the government when the bill comes to a vote. British American Tobacco (BAT) has vowed that if the UK approves the law, BAT will challenge it in court.

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