The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is calling on the Government to replace branded cigarette packs with plain ones as soon as possible.
According to the charity, a survey it carried out found that 78% of people support the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products.
"There is a clear and overwhelming appetite for plain packaging among the general public, who recognise its benefits. Almost four in five people are behind it, while more than three in five smokers support it. This will reduce smoking rates in Ireland, and will stop young people smoking before they start," commented Donal Buggy of the ICS.
The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which allows for plain packaging, has already passed through the Oireachtas and been signed into law by the President.
The ICS is now calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to start the clock on the so-called ‘washout period' - the 12 months before retailers have to stock plain packs - without delay.
"We welcome the passing of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. However, delays have meant that we missed the deadline for commencement of plain packaging last May, and have fallen behind our European partners in France and the UK. It is time for the Minister to set out a start date on plain packaging, so we don't fall even further behind," Mr Buggy noted.
Plain packs are mostly made up of graphic health warnings. The only other distinguishing feature is the name of the cigarette brand. However no other branding, such as colours, imagery or corporate logos, are permitted.
"Our survey showed an overwhelmingly strong response from non-smokers to the packs, with many commenting on the strong impact of graphic warnings and their usefulness in highlighting health risks. Smokers alike reacted positively to the new packs' educational value and many felt they would act as a deterrent to new smokers," Mr Buggy said.
Research suggests that in the two years following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, smoking rates fell to a historic low of 12.8%. Two years before the introduction, the smoking rate was 15.1%.
The smoking rate in Ireland is currently 23%.
"We know from the experience of plain packaging in Australia that it is a very effective measure in tobacco control that will reduce smoking rates. It is especially useful in stopping young people from smoking. In Australia, the daily smoking rate among 12-17 year-olds has fallen to just 5%, compared to 8% here," Mr Buggy pointed out.
The ICS survey noted that smokers tend to be more skeptical about the impact of plain packaging on current smokers.
"What our research shows is that smokers are less inclined to see plain packaging as an effective incentive for them to quit smoking. Some 38% of smokers thought it would encourage them to quit smoking, with 44% disagreeing, while 35% of smokers thought it would encourage family or friends to quit.
"We expect that this view will evolve as plain packaging becomes the norm, but it highlights the need for continued investment in effective smoking cessation services to accompany such progressive public health actions," Mr Buggy said.
The ICS made its call on Ash Wednesday (March 1), which is the country's National No Smoking Day.
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