February 22, 2018
by Guillaume Périgois

Ireland: Minister lowers expectations about tobacco use as plain packs start to appear in stores

Goal of using plain packs to reduce tobacco consumption has now vanished.

Plain cigarettes packs have now appeared in shops in Ireland. They will become mandatory there in September 2018.

You already know them from Australia, France and the UK: all forms of branding – trademarks, logos, colours and graphics – are removed from tobacco packs.

The brand and variant names are presented in small print in a standardised font, lost in a repulsive patchwork made of scary images, bossy anti-smoking propaganda and a dull green colour.

Hardly ‘plain’ if you ask me. The terms ‘ugly’ and ‘confusing’ sound more accurate.

The press release published by the Department of Health makes it clear that one of the effect will indeed be to muddle things for smokers:

“Gone are the familiar colours and logos of the various brands [my emphasis] and instead all cigarette boxes will be in the same plain neutral colour”

As if confusion was something people wanted more when making their groceries. Irish smokers will appreciate.

But what caught my eye was the relative caution displayed by Minister Catherine Byrne:

“Our aim is to decrease the appeal of tobacco products, to increase the effectiveness of health warnings and to reduce the chances of consumers being misled about the harmful effects of smoking.”

Do you see a claim about how plain packaging will reduce tobacco consumption in Ireland?

No you don’t.

Health Promotion Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said back in 2017 when the order passed that there is a “strong evidence emerging from Australia, that introducing standardised packaging is both effective and proportionate in reducing the toll of tobacco use on the population [my emphasis].”

This allegation is now gone.

It’s quite remarkable, really.

This caution is maybe the result of the Irish government taking note that, when implemented, plain packaging fails.

Plain packaging indeed failed in France and the UK. The policy hasn’t had any impact on smoking rates or tobacco sales. It even led French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn to declare one year after its implementation that plain packaging “does not allow smokers to quit smoking” and that “official sales of cigarettes have increased in France: plain packaging has therefore not reduced the official sale of tobacco”.

And it failed in Australia, too: the long decline in smoking has actually stalled and illicit tobacco, more harmful to human health, has increased.

So what rationale is left for plain packaging? Here’s Minister Byrne again:

“This packaging makes it plain that cigarettes are bad for your health.”

That’s the big reason? Give me a break!

Smokers know the risks. In fact, everyone knows the health risks of smoking. Even worse, very few people start because of the packaging.

The plain truth is that “plain packaging treats adults like children and teenagers like idiots” as I said to Euractiv last year.

So what does that mean for Ireland?

Based on what happened in Australia, France and the UK, here are my predictions about the implementation of plain packaging in Ireland:

  1. it won’t affect significantly people’s decision to smoke
  2. it will boost illicit tobacco trade, and
  3. it will strengthen the activists and politicians who are keen to apply ostracising regulations to the products they dislike, using anti-tobacco laws as blueprints.

We’ll see in 2020 if I was in right in 2018.

And in the meantime, because it ostracises smokers from normal society, because it’s not about health but about control, because it risks harmful side effects, Forest EU will continue to fight against plain packaging in Europe.

Politico Europe explains that Ireland is now the third EU country to implement this sorry regulation:

“Ireland is the third EU country to see plain packs hit the shelves, after France and the U.K. last year. The trend is set to expand into newer EU countries, such as Hungary, where plain packaging is likely to become mandatory in 2019, and Slovenia, which should follow suit in 2020.”

As you can see, Forest EU has a lot of work to do.

Note to editors:

  • For more information, please contact Forest EU Director Guillaume Périgois on +32 4 78 98 07 43 or at gp@forestonline.eu.
  • Forest EU is an lobby campaign informing smokers about issues that affect them in the European Union and engaging with stakeholders so the views of informed adults are taken into account within the EU’s decision-making process. Since 1979, Forest has been the leading voice in defending the rights of tobacco consumers and tolerant non-smokers. Forest EU doesn’t encourage smoking and doesn’t represent the tobacco industry. For more information, visit forestonline.eu.

Featured image: “Temple Bar – Dublin by mariocutroneo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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