TOBACCO manufacturer PJ Carroll has been accused of giving vouchers to shop staff as a reward for promoting its cigarette products.
In the first prosecution of its kind, the tobacco company is accused of breaching the sponsorship ban by introducing a ‘Pocket-a-Packet’ programme for selected retailers in Ireland.
Yesterday, former Justice Minister Michael McDowell, for the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC), told Dublin’s District Court that shop staff and owners were motivated to promote Pall Mall cigarettes under a mystery shopper scheme operated by PJ Carroll in the summer of 2009.
It was alleged that when customers asked if a shop stocked Benson and Hedges, John Player Blue or Mayfair King Size cigarettes, staff would be rewarded with a €30 One 4 All voucher if they responded by saying: “We also stock Pall Mall, which is the best value cigarette on the market.”
Shops that passed the mystery shopper test would also be put forward for a prize draw where €1,000, €2,000 and €5,000 worth of wholesale vouchers could be won, according to the OTC.
Pall Mall, which had been the cheapest cigarettes for sale before minimum prices were imposed after July 2009, is the third largest selling brand in Europe.
PJ Carroll denies five charges of giving or causing to give financial assistance to retailers in consideration of the promotion of a tobacco product under Ireland’s public health laws.
The company, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, one of the world’s largest quoted tobacco companies, has claimed that the prosecution can not proceed in at least one of the cases because the OTC failed to specify the dates on a summons.
It also claimed that the watchdog did not formally produce to the court proper versions of the regulations which gave effect to the sponsorship ban and the prosecution has been adjourned until this morning to consider the matter.
The case was opened yesterday before District Court judge Ms Justice Bridget Reilly.
The court heard that the tobacco watchdog launched an investigation in July 2009 following a complaint to the OTC by an environmental health officer from the Health Services Executive (HSE).
On July 1, 2009 all advertising of tobacco products were banned in retail shops in Ireland and tobacco products are now stored in closed contained units.
Sponsorship of tobacco products is also banned under Ireland’s public health laws.