Cigarette packaging: Republic of Ireland bid to ban branded tobacco
The Republic of Ireland has become the first country in Europe to try to pass a law banning the sale of branded cigarette and tobacco packets.
The proposed legislation would force tobacco firms to use plain packaging, removing all logos and trademark colours from cigarette packets.
Irish Minister for Health James Reilly said the ban would help to save lives.
Australia was the first country in the world to ban branded tobacco and New Zealand is currently debating the law.
Other European countries, including the United Kingdom, are still considering whether or not to legislate.
In a statement, the Irish health minister said: "The objective of the bill is to make tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers, to make health warnings more prominent and to reduce the ability of the packs to mislead people, especially children about the harmful effects of smoking."
However, tobacco companies have strongly opposed branding bans, saying plain packaging would assist criminals as it would make counterfeit cigarettes more difficult to detect.
A spokesperson for British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns cigarette brands including Benson & Hedges and Dunhill, said they were "disappointed" that the Irish Cabinet had approved the draft bill.
"There is no credible evidence that plain packaging will work in terms of stopping children taking up smoking or encouraging current smokers to quit," the firm said.
"Instead, Minister Reilly's plain packaging bill will simply play into the hands of the criminals who are ready and waiting to supply people, regardless of their age, with cheap tobacco products."
In recent years, the Republic of Ireland led the debate in tackling the dangers smoking poses to public health.
In March 2004, Dublin became the first parliament in the world to introduce a total ban on smoking in the workplace.
Controversially, the workplace ban included pubs and clubs, but it has been largely hailed as a success with a 97% compliance rate.
Dr Reilly, who took over as health minister in March 2011, has been working on a plan to make the Republic of Ireland "tobacco-free" by 2025.
He has defined a tobacco-free Ireland as a state where less than 5% of the population smoke. Currently the figure is 22%.
Dr Reilly said the introduction of plain packaging legislation was "a significant step forward" towards achieving the 2025 goal.
He added: "Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, it is not acceptable to allow the tobacco industry to use deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure our children into this deadly addiction and to deceive current smokers about the impact of their addiction.
"The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland. Cigarette packets will no longer be a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry."
The BAT spokesperson added: "The Irish government has yet to publish a Regulatory Impact Assessment to show how it intends to address the black market and intellectual property issues associated with plain packaging or how Irish retailers and small business owners would be affected.
"Rather than trying to push through this legislation, the government should give further consideration to the evidence and drop this misguided policy."