Ireland Just Took an Aggressive Step to Fight Tobacco That the U.S. Would Never Consider


Call it the luck of the Irish, or a damn good idea from some smart people.

In a continuing effort to cut down on smoking, Ireland has become the first European nation to ban cigarette branding on packages. Under the regulation, cigarettes sold in Ireland would be "in a standard dark-colored wrapper emblazoned with large health warnings and images of disease," with individual brand names "small" and using "similar fonts" on all packets according to the Irish Independent.

The move was closely modeled on Australian cigarette laws where stringent packaging procedures are downright frightening, with graphic photos and health warnings prominently displayed. In Canada, smokes are "required to have a health warning cover 50% of the front and 50% of the back of the package," according to Canada's Tobacco Labeling Resource Center.

"The interests of public health will be served when children decide never to take up smoking in the first place and if smokers are persuaded to quit," said James Reilly, Ireland's Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, according to the Guardian. "We have a duty to prevent our children from being lured into a killer addiction."

The Irish move follows its pioneering workplace smoking ban, instituted in 2004, and brings the nation closer to its goal of a "smoke-free" society by 2025. 

What's happening stateside: The Irish can potentially offer a model for the U.S., which itself has come a long way since Camel cigarettes declared "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette."

After the United States first linked smoking to ill health in 1964, the trend was pretty one-directional. In 1990 the federal government banned smoking on almost all domestic flights. In 1998 attorneys general from 46 states reached the "Master Settlement Agreement" with America's five largest tobacco companies. According to the Public Health Law Center of the William Mitchell College of Law, the landmark agreement:

1. Forbids participating cigarette manufacturers from directly or indirectly targeting youth.

America's long-term efforts to combat smoking have seen remarkable and largely sustained drops in the number of student and adult smokers. In 1965, 42.4% of American adults were counted as smokers, a figure that fell to 17.8% in 2013, the lowest in almost 50 years.

Nevertheless, more work remains to be done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "More than 3,200 children age 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette every day."

That said, today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a hunky Marlboro man (many of whom ultimately died of smoking-related illness), staring at you from behind the counter at 7-Eleven. The U.S. has taken considerable measures to reduce tobacco advertising, but nothing has been as aggressive as what Ireland is about to put into effect.

AP Images

Around the world: The global fight against smoking has largely shifted to the developing world. In many poorer countries, large tobacco companies have used legal intimidation to prevent similar smoking warnings on products sold. 

According to the New York Times, Namibia was repeatedly harassed by tobacco industry players after it attempted to impose its own regulations on smoking. "We have bundles and bundles of letters from them," Namibia's health minister, Richard Kamwi, told the New York Times.

FRED DUFOUR/Getty Images

In China, which has as many as 350 million smokers, anti-smoking action could potentially risk the country's billion-plus-dollar tax revenues. Reform there was likely stymied for years while the brother of the prime minister (who resigned last month) served as the deputy head of the state's mighty cigarette monopoly.

Given the recent study revealing that tobacco kills 2 out of every 3 users, Ireland's law is a major step toward a healthier population — a step all other nations, including the United States, should follow.