James ‘Pakie’ Walsh, founder of Tobbaccland, says the company has taken legal advice Picture: Adrian Butler
LIMERICK-based Tobaccoland - the largest supplier of cigarette vending machines in Ireland - says it will mount a legal challenge against any legislation banning the machines.
Established 30 years ago by James ‘Packie’ Walsh, the company employs more than 30 people at its headquarters at Mulgrave Street in the city.
It owns and maintains around 1,500 cigarette vending machines which are located in pubs, nightclubs and hotels across the country.
“We set them up, install them and stock them and then we put them in sites. We also have to make sure they are fully compliant with the regulations,” explained senior engineer Declan Costelloe.
Last week Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed legislation is being drawn up to ban cigarette vending machines as part of the strategy to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025.
A similar ban was introduced in the UK in 2011.
While Tobaccoland is the single biggest operator in the market, around 140 jobs will be lost nationwide if a ban is introduced.
However, James Walsh says he does not believe the proposed new laws will work and believes cigarettes will still be available to buy in pubs and nightclub.
“We are concerned about the legislation, we feel it is being written for the sake of writing it, there is no need for it in the wide earthly world,” he told the Limerick Leader.
“If he bans the cigarette machines in the pub all it will do is push them behind the bar and they will be sold from behind the bar in a container,” he added.
He says while staff at the company are concerned about their jobs it is likely that any ban, if introduced, will not take effect for several years.
The company has taken legal advice and is prepared to mount a Supreme Court challenge if necessary.
“It is a worrying time for the staff but I have told them we are going to challenge the legislation and we are going to bring it all the way to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is we want to try to protect what we have been doing for 30 years - we have to look after the business and we’re going to do that,” he said.
Cormac Dunne of the Irish Cigarette Machine Operators Association said the reason vending machines have been banned in other countries is because there was no age control whereas there are strict controls regarding access in Ireland.