As the Deputy will be aware, I received Government approval on 19th November 2013 to proceed with drafting the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013. Standardised packaging, also known as generic packaging, means that all forms of branding – trademarks, logos, colours and graphics – would be removed, except for the brand and variant names, which would be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands on the market. All packs would be in a plain neutral colour, except for the mandatory health warnings and the tax stamp. The objective is to make all tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers and to make health warnings more prominent.
In December 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. Given that it is such a recent innovation, it has not been possible at this early stage to conduct research that would fully evaluate the impact of this policy in practice. However, a limited amount of research is beginning to be published. One study, published in December 2013, concluded that smoking in outdoor areas declined by 23%, and personal pack display (where packs are clearly visible on tables) declined by 15% following the introduction of plain packaging and larger pictorial warnings on packs. Another Australian study found a 78% increase in the number of calls to the smoking cessation helpline, Quitline, associated with the introduction of plain packaging.
It is important to state that the introduction of standardised packaging forms the latest strand of a comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation already in place in Ireland aimed at decreasing tobacco consumption in this country. Ireland’s new policy document in this area, Tobacco Free Ireland, launched on 3rd October 2013, sets a target for Ireland to be tobacco free (i.e. with a prevalence rate of less than 5%) by 2025. Tobacco Free Ireland addresses a range of tobacco control issues and initiatives and contains over 60 recommendations, one of which is the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Regarding the Deputy’s query about costs; there would be no specific cost to the Exchequer related to the introduction of this measure per se. However, since the intent of the measures outlined in Tobacco Free Ireland is to reduce tobacco use, it could, in the absence of future increases in Excise rates, lead to a reduction in Excise receipts from tobacco which in 2012 yielded €1.072 billion. Any impact on Excise receipts needs to be set against the economic costs of deaths and illness attributable to smoking. European research on the issue indicated that a very conservative estimate of this for 2009 is in the region of €664 million. This is composed of €498 million in health expenditure on smoking related areas, €15 million in productivity losses due to absenteeism and €151 million in productivity losses due to long term incapacity.