Ireland has become the first country in Europe to introduce plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes.
“We hope MPs in Westminster will follow suit to ensure our children are protected from a deadly addiction and vote for standardised packaging when they get the opportunity this month” – Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK
Following the example set by Australia, all tobacco products sold in Ireland will be in a standard dark-coloured packs with large health warnings and images of disease.
Slim boxes of cigarettes, in lipstick-style shapes, will also be illegal under the reform.
Brand names will be small and use similar fonts on all packets in the marketing clampdown which is likely to be challenged in the courts, either in Ireland or under European rules.
President Michael D Higgins will formally sign the legislation into law at a date to be confirmed, but the Bill has now passed all stages of the Irish Parliament.
James Reilly, Children’s Minister and a former health minister who spearheaded the ban, said it was about protecting people and should be seen as a good day for the health of children.
“The interests of public health will be served when children decide never to take up smoking in the first place and if smokers are persuaded to quit,” he said.
“We have a duty to prevent our children from being lured into a killer addiction.
“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 UK is set to follow the Irish example with laws to be passed before the end of the month.
Anti-smoking campaigners and Government say the ban will remove one of the last remaining and most powerful marketing tools of big tobacco firms.
Anti-smoking group Ash Ireland said the ban was vital health legislation.
Spokesman Ross Morgan said the Government and opposition politicians should be complimented for pushing ahead with the ban despite threats of lawsuits.
“We would also expect that should the industry mount a legal challenge on any aspect of this health legislation it will be vigorously contested,” he said.
“Ash Ireland is firmly of the view that the successful implementation of this legislation here in Ireland will set the scene for others to follow in Europe as was the case with the workplace smoking legislation some 11 years ago.”
France and Norway are progressing similar laws while Finland and New Zealand are considering going down the same path.
Dr Morgan claimed the early indications from Australia are that smoking rates have fallen and young people find the standardised packets less attractive.
“In recent weeks it emerged that some legal companies were advising the tobacco industry and various elements of our health services,” Dr Morgan said.
“This is an apparent conflict of interest which must be examined further and it seems clear that the status quo in this area is entirely unsatisfactory.”
The Department of Health in Dublin said: “The threat of legal challenges should not act as deterrents for the introduction of appropriate public health measures.”
It added: “The state would argue that the Irish Government has approved the development and introduction of this legislation on the basis that it is a proportionate and justified public health measure.”
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “It’s wonderful news that the Irish Parliament has had the strength of conviction to vote through plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes. Members have stood strong in the face of misinformation and threats from the tobacco industry and taken decisive action to protect children from tobacco marketing.
“Standardised packaging has a strong evidence base and is supported by 72 per cent of voters in the UK. We hope MPs in Westminster will follow suit to ensure our children are protected from a deadly addiction and vote for standardised packaging when they get the opportunity this month.”