Eleventh hour hope for Northern Ireland in new cigarette ad law

Anti-smoking measures approved at Stormont
Anti-smoking measures approved at Stormont

A last-gasp attempt is in the offing to include Northern Ireland in a law to curb cigarette advertising.

The proposed changes would grant the government powers to strip cigarette packets of their branding, and yesterday Stormont’s Department of Health declared the intention is to bring the matter to the Assembly before February 5 – with Cancer Research UK heralding “a victory for common sense”.

The powers would be part of the Children and Families Bill, now nearing its final reading in Westminster.

But while England and Wales are already covered by it (with Scotland expected to agree on Tuesday) time is running short for Ulster MLAs to join the act.

For the Province to be covered by the bill, the Assembly has to pass a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) – and charities said action must be taken this week for this to happen.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said on Wednesday talks had taken place to allow a motion to be brought forward urgently, with the consent of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

Yesterday the Department of Health said: “The intention is to table an LCM for plenary debate in the Assembly... To be included in the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, the LCM debate in the Assembly will need to be completed before February 5.” Then late in the evening, OFMDFM confirmed the urgent procedure to make this happen had been approved.

Neil Johnston, public affairs adviser with NI Chest Heart and Stroke, said with the Republic planning similar moves on packaging, the Province would look isolated if it was not involved too.

“We could literally be the only place in these islands where branded packs are allowed,” he said. “We’d look a bit daft.”

John Mallon, of smokers’ group Forest Eireann (funded by the tobacco industry), said: “The view on the ground over here – and I’ve been hearing it from smokers and non-smokers – (is) people are just shrugging their shoulders and saying: ‘What difference does the box make?’”