Big Tobacco Flexes its Muscles

At the moment we are witnessing an extraordinary event. Big Tobacco, in the guise of Japan Tobacco International (JTI), is planning to take the Irish government to court over its attempts to introduce plain tobacco containers.
Dr. James Reilly, the Children’s Minister in Ireland has adopted this position as a way to further reduce the number of smokers in the country. Minister Reilly pointed to the fact that in Ireland 5,200 people die each year from tobacco-related diseases. The tobacco industry dispute the claim that plain packaging leads to fewer smokers.  In Australia, where plain packaging was first introduced, John Player circulated data recently which shows that in the 12 -17 age-cohort tobacco use grew by 32 percent since plain packaging was introduced in 2012. [1] Many question these figures, and wonder why they plan to take the Irish government to court if plain packaging will increase their sales!.
Cigarettes are very expensive in Ireland, compared to other countries. In December 2014 a packet of 20 cigarettes in Russia cost €1.56; €0.92 in Belarus; €1.03 in the Ukraine and €3.53 in Poland. In Ireland, a packet of 20 cigarettes costs €10. Even though €7.87 is paid in excise duty and VAT the profits are still huge.
At the behest of the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society, Professor Rob Branston, from the Department of Economics in the University of Bath in Britain, has conducted an extensive study of the economics of tobacco in Ireland In 2011, Branston found that their combined revenue reached €226.5 million. The profits were in the region of €104.3 million which represents a 46 percent profit margin. Branston believes that “their profit margins (in Ireland) are astonishing.”[2] Profits from cigarettes are 46 percent compared to 20 percent for normal consumer goods.
A lot of comment on the JTI threat to the government has come from the medical profession. In The Irish Times (February 18th 2015), Dr Ross Morgan chairperson of ASH(Action on Smoking and Heathl) Ireland wrote that “he was not surprised Big Tobacco is now threatening our Government with legal sanctions. These kinds of bullying tactics are standard practices for the tobacco industry all around the world. It is imperative that our government stands first against such tactics and introduce what has been well established in Australia to be a progressive and positive health legislation.”[3]
Another letter in the same paper came from four Registrars in public medicine in Dublin. Dr. Ronan Glynn, Dr. Elyce McGovern, Dr. Chantal Migone, Dr. Lois O’Connor wrote that “JTI cited its direct employment of 100 people in Ireland and its tax payments of more than €665 million in 2013. JTI will not have mentioned that it is smokers who pay the tax and that JTI makes about €15 million net profit each year from those who are addicted to its products. It will not have discussed the cost of premature deaths due to smoking-related diseases in Ireland – estimated at over €3,500 million per annum.” They then address Danny McCoy, chief executive of the employers’ union IBEC who expressed concern at the proposed legislation and has asked that its passage be paused. “This approach disregards the cost of smoking to employers; productivity losses and long-term incapacity due to smoking-related diseases cost the Irish State over €160 million in 2009 alone. One in every two employees who smoke will die as a result of their habit.” Finally, the letter states that “ Plain packaging represents the logical evidence-based next step in tackling smoking-related disease and is crucial if the Government is to achieve its aim of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025.” [4]
One other spin-off is that organisations such as The Irish Cancer Society plans to reject donations from legal firms which are supporting the tobacco industry in threatening court action on the States to block plain packaging of cigarettes. In   2013 and 2014, The Irish Cancer Society received €20,000 from Arthur Cox, one of Ireland’s most influential law firms, which is acting for the tobacco companies. This company is also the legal adviser for the Health Service Executive (HSE). Many people see a conflict of interests in having Arthur Cox working for both HSE, which trying to promote health, and JTI which is undermining public health. No religious person has become involved in this controversy.
Religious people do comment on alcohol miss-use, but not on cigarettes. I wonder why, because every time you use tobacco products as described by the producer you harm yourself and those around you.
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
[1] Arthus Beesley, “Tobacco firm threat an intrusion into the political process,” The Irish Times, February 18th 2015, page 6.
[2] Sarah McCabe, “No smoke with ire; Big Tobacco gets angry,” The Sunday Independent, February 22, 2015, page 6.
[3] The Irish Times, February 18th 2015, page 15.
[4] Ibid

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