September 29, 2017

Irish Cancer Society welcomes beginning of plain tobacco packaging ‘wash-out’ period

Society praises ‘victory for public health over vested interests’

The Irish Cancer Society today welcomed the beginning of the ‘wash-out’ period which will see the gradual introduction of standardised tobacco packaging over the next year. The health charity said it was a ‘hard fought battle’ to ensure progress of plain packaging, but was a clear sign that Ireland is committed to protecting the health of its citizens.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: “We’re delighted that plain packs will start to hit the shelves in the coming months, and today marks the end of a hard fought battle to remove the tobacco industry’s last great marketing tool, its packaging”.

“Plain packaging will make smoking less attractive, especially to young people. The tobacco industry has spent decades strategically targeting, manipulating and exploiting children, and has thrown the kitchen sink at stopping plain packaging, but thankfully the public interest has prevailed.”

Plain packaging means that any new tobacco produced for sale in Ireland must now come in drab packaging accompanied by graphic health warnings and no other distinguishing features, apart from brand names in plain text.

From today, all tobacco manufactured for sale in Ireland will be required to appear in plain packaging. The wash-out period means retailers can sell old stock until 30 September 2018, but after that all tobacco must be sold in plain packaging.

Mr. Buggy said: “Great credit and praise must go to all the legislators and public servants who made this possible. We’re very thankful for the efforts of successive Ministers Leo Varadkar, Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy and Simon Harris, in seeing the Standardised Packaging Act 2015 commenced. We would also like to pay tribute to the Trojan efforts Minister James Reilly and the Department of Health’s Tobacco and Alcohol Control Unit put in to ensuring the relevant legislation became a reality”.

A coalition of health and children’s charities helped ensure tobacco industry falsehoods about plain packaging were strongly rebutted and Mr. Buggy said: “The Irish Cancer Society is proud of the role it played alongside a range of partner organisations to help promote and push plain packaging with Oireachtas members.”

The alliance of charities, including the ISPCC, Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Asthma Society of Ireland, the Irish Thoracic Society, COPD Ireland, ASH Ireland, the Irish College of Ophthalmologists, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation, focused their efforts on ensuring politicians were informed about how plain packaging protects young people.

Mr. Buggy said: “Ireland can be very proud of its record on tobacco control since the beginning of this century. We’re now viewed as a world leader in the area thanks to actions such as the workplace smoking ban in 2004, the ban on point of sale advertising in 2009, the introduction of graphic warnings on pack in 2013, and plain packaging today.”

Mr. Buggy said: “Much of the focus in terms of tobacco control in the past few years have focused on reducing the smoking rate among children. This can be witnessed in the smoking rates among 10-17 year olds in Ireland which have fallen from 21% in 1998 to 8% in 2014. We expect plain packaging will help continue to reduce these rates.”

Following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, smoking rates among 12 – 17 year olds fell from 7% to 5%.

Reflecting on progress made in public health policy in recent years, Mr. Buggy said: “It’s clear that bravery is required from our politicians to help see off the fierce lobbying interests of a powerful industry such as ‘big tobacco’, which has sought to bully and harass sovereign nations from Africa to Australasia to Europe to South America.”

“Ireland can take great pride in its role as an innovator in tobacco control and we must continue stand up for legislation that protects public health from vested interests whose smoke and mirror tactics distract from the havoc their products wreak on our health services and who are directly responsible for rapidly rising cancer mortality rates.”