Open letter published on October 14, 2013, in The Irish Times.
Sir—Ireland has the worst problem with tobacco smuggling of any country in Western Europe. Furthermore, according to the OECD, it has also seen the smallest reduction in smoking prevalence of any Western European country in the last twenty years. These two facts strongly suggest that the Irish model of tobacco control has been a failure. As widely predicted, its high taxes and endless regulations have unleashed serious unintended consequences without meaningfully discouraging the smoking habit.
For a decade or more, Ireland’s tobacco control policy appears to have been focused on attacking the tobacco industry and the product rather than concentrating on what actually might work such as mandatory education in schools as successfully applied in Germany. It was therefore unsurprising to hear that Minister. Reilly is eager for Ireland to adopt the latest gimmick of so-called ‘plain packaging’ which breaches intellectual property rights and effectively outlaws competition between brands. It also appears to breach various international free trade agreements and is certain to lead to costly lawsuits. Australia passed such a law nearly two years ago. In their greater wisdom, no other government has since followed suit, including Britain, New Zealand and the European Union. But Minister Reilly knows best and bravely thunders on with his plain pack smokescreen.
It is one thing to warn the public that a product is potentially hazardous, but quite another for the government to seize the entire package and make competing brands look identical. It is easy to imagine such a draconian policy being rolled out to other controversial products in the future. Indeed, health campaigners in Australia have already suggested plain packaging for alcohol and plain packaging for certain types of food. If Ireland is really the best small country in the world to do business, is this the right message for Ireland to send out?
The ‘evidence’ presented for plain packaging shows only that people in surveys prefer the look of conventional packs to plain packs. This tells us nothing about the likely effect on smoking uptake since there is no evidence that people start smoking because of logos and colours on a cigarette box. It will, however, make life easier for counterfeiters who will no longer need to produce dozens of different designs.
Ireland cannot afford another policy that drives up smuggling while doing nothing to deter smoking. It must reconsider this ill-advised proposal.
PATRICK BASHAM, Democracy Institute; TIM KNOX, Centre for Policy Studies; MARK LITTLEWOOD, Institute of Economic Affairs; CÉCILE PHILIPPE, Institut Economique Molinari; SIMON RICHARDS, The Freedom Association; MIKE RIDGWAY, Spokesman for seven leading UK packaging manufacturers; Dr CARLO STAGNARO, Istituto Bruno Leoni & TANJA STUMBERGER, Porcnik, Svetilnik,
C/o Lord North Street,
Westminster, London, England.