The Tobacco Products Directive proposed by the European Commission will be a huge boost to the illegal tobacco market, according to the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee (ITMAC).
The Department of Health issued calls for consultation on the EU legislation to which ITMAC responded that the proposal is prohibition, not regulation and will boost the illegal tobacco market in Ireland.
The proposed legislation includes the placement of health warnings, both images and text, on 75% of the front and back of cigarette packs; a ban on flavoured cigarettes; and a ban on rolling tobacco sold in quantities of less than 40g.
The legitimate tobacco market contracted by 10% in 2012, however the rate of smoking in Ireland remained the same at 29% with consumers largely moving to the illegal or non-Irish duty paid tobacco market. The ITMAC believes this will increase further if the new legislation is applied here.
A spokesperson for ITMAC said: "Ireland is simply not ready for this type of legislation on tobacco. At the moment at 28%, the country has the highest level of non-Irish duty paid (NIDP) cigarettes in Western Europe along with one of the highest levels of taxation. We have a serious problem which is widespread across the country, and unless the government can begin to deal properly with it then this type of legislation will only serve to increase the demand and availability of illegal tobacco in Ireland."
There is also widespread opposition to the move amongst retailers with the Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) group claiming that retailers stand to lose sales of €500 million to the black market trade if the legislation progresses. "There is mass opposition among retailers to these plans. We feel that it is ludicrous that at a time when the illegal cigarette market is flourishing that the Government is considering measures that will clearly harm legitimate businesses and put Irish jobs at risk," said RAS spokesman, Benny Gilsenan.
"If these measures are made law, almost half of the products we sell will disappear from our shelves and the knock-on effect will be huge job losses in the retail sector. The measures would also mean that a whole section of otherwise law-abiding consumers would have no choice but to buy products on the black market," he added. The CSNA and NFRN have also voiced their opposition to the measures in recent weeks.