Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that he will continue to do everything possible to defend local jobs in JTI/Gallahers’ Ballymena plant.
Mr Nicholson’s comments come as representatives from the European Parliament, Council and European Commission agreed to a compromise in negotiations regarding the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive.
The compromise would see the minimum size of Roll-Your-Own (RYO) tobacco pouches rise to 30grams, which would have an impact locally by effectively making a line at the JTI/Gallaher plant obsolete, with possible implications for some 200-300 jobs.
Commenting on the decision Mr. Nicholson said: “Given the well-known health implications of smoking, the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive had the laudable intention of discouraging young people from taking up the habit. Nevertheless I believe these important concerns have not been sufficiently balanced with the implications for local jobs.
“This week in Brussels negotiators have agreed to a minimum pack size of 30 grams for pouches of RYO tobacco. Production of these packs is a significant part of the business at the JTI/Gallaher plant in Ballymena. This decision has major implications for the Northern Ireland economy as it will effectively remove a production line from the factory and threaten hundreds of jobs when it is implemented.
“Ahead of these negotiations MEPs had backed a minimum pack size of 20 grams – this would have lessened the local impact and meant the line in question could at least continue to operate. Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson has been representing her political group in these crucial talks and has therefore had an opportunity to influence the final outcome, she has however chosen to back the 30 gram pack size having repeatedly failed to recognise the significance of this aspect of the Directive for her own constituency.
“Indeed Ms Anderson originally backed the Council’s position of a minimum pack size of 40 grams. I have been working with my colleagues in the group to which I belong - the ECR Group - which is the only one to have continued to argue for the 20 gram packs as voted for by Parliament.”
He concluded: “While I would reiterate my support for measures to curb smoking, the evidence does not suggest that the arbitrary increase of the minimum pack size to 30 grams as opposed to 20 grams will be the most effective method in reducing levels of smoking. Such a move does however increase the likelihood of people being pushed towards illegal tobacco and as outlined threatens local jobs. That is why I will now work to secure the 40 signatures needed to table an amendment to help safeguard the jobs and livelihoods of the employees in JTI/Gallahers’ Ballymena plant – this is an important issue for Northern Ireland.”