Tobaccoland gears up to fight vending machine ban

Simon Harris' proposal would likely prove catastrophic for the Limerick company...

The country's biggest cigarette vending machine supplier has said that banning them won't stop people smoking.

Minister for Health Simon Harris wants to remove the vending machines from pubs across the country.

However, the Limerick-based company Tobaccoland has said that it will take legal action to prevent the move.

Talking to Newstalk Breakfast, Tobaccoland director James Walshe revealed that it had already consulted with lawyers and believes it has a great case.

Tobaccoland sells roughly €1.5 million euro's worth of cigarettes through its machines every week, and employs 23 full-time and 10 part-time workers.

There are roughly 4,000 such vending machines in operation around the country, with the Irish Cigarette Machine Operators Association warning that 145 jobs and 60 family-owned businesses are at risk in total should the ban come to fruition.

The proposed ban is part of the minister's strategy to make Ireland tobacco-free by 2025. 

Walshe admitted that "there's nobody will support [Harris] more than me" because he has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that he would not want smoking, but argued:

"As far as I'm concerned, once a person gets to 18... they're entitled to do it."

Walshe said any ban would fail and result in a situation that currently exists in the UK:

"Because what'll happen is, if he bans the self-service machine there'll be a container put in behind the bar.

"Because every cigarette in this country has to come out of a container, in all retail outlets, all shops, every place. It has to be in a container, sealed and locked..."

The Department of Health said in a statement that 15 European member states have already enforced similar measures and that the very existence of vending machines serves to advertise cigarettes:

"In the UK, England prohibited the sale of tobacco from such machines with effect from October 2011, after the successful defence of a legal challenge from the tobacco industry."