Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly has described a judgement by a court in the United States to order the a major cigarette company there to pay $23.6bn to the wife of a smoker who died of lung cancer as "a landmark decision."

Mr Reilly said: "It's a landmark decision in the US. According to lawyers for the plaintiff the tobacco companies are putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy by not properly informing them of the health hazard associated with smoking."

"The Irish Government is determined that we will introduce plain packaging for tobacco in an effort to make sure that citizens recognise the very real and grave dangers of smoking tobacco." 

"I am determined that we will act to try to prevent children from ever starting to smoke in the first place." 

The verdict, seen as one of the largest for a single plaintiff in Florida history, also awarded more than $16 million in compensatory damages to the estate of Michael Johnson Sr.

During the four-week trial, lawyers for Mr Johnson's widow Cynthia Robinson argued that RJ Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the dangers of consuming tobacco and thus led to Johnson contracting lung cancer from smoking cigarettes.

They said Johnson had become "addicted" to cigarettes and failed multiple attempts to quit smoking.

The Escambia County jury returned its verdict after some 15 hours of deliberations.

"RJ Reynolds took a calculated risk by manufacturing cigarettes and selling them to consumers without properly informing them of the hazards," Ms Robinson's lawyer Willie Gary said in a statement.

"As a result of their negligence, my client's husband suffered from lung cancer and eventually lost his life.

"We hope that this verdict will send a message to RJ Reynolds and other big tobacco companies that will force them to stop putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy."

RJ Reynolds plans to appeal the court decision and verdict, vice president and assistant general counsel J Jeffery Raborn said.

The landmark award was "far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness," he charged in a statement.

Reynolds is "confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand," Raborn added, calling the damages "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law."