The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that Irish legislation fixing a minimum retail price for cigarettes infringes EU law.

The legislation here breaches Directive 95/59 which has rules on excise duty affecting the consumption of tobacco products.

The court says imposing a minimum price on cigarettes can undermine competition by preventing some manufacturers taking advantage of lower cost manufacturing prices, so as to offer more attractive retail selling prices.

The court says that while the directive [95/59] ensures health protection, it does not prevent member states from combating smoking.

In a statement, cigarette manufacturer PJ Carroll welcomed the ruling saying: ‘The reality is the set minimum price for cigarettes has become irrelevant. Packs of cigarettes are being purchased up and down the country for as little as €3.50 on the black market. This is under half the current minimum price of €7.75.’

However, the Irish Cancer Society say they are disappointed with the ruling by the European Court of Justice which found Irish legislation fixing a minimum retail price for cigarettes infringed EU law.

Head of Advocacy with the Irish Cancer Society, Kathleen O'Meara, said they are disappointed with the potential impact of the ruling because it could mean a reduction in the price of cigarettes here.

Anti-smoking group ASH also said it was concerned with the ruling.

Dr Angie Brown, ASH, said: "We will be in contact with the government on this vitally important matter. Ireland has and is permitted to have a separate tax regime to all other EU countries - and it is our view that the Government has every right to apply taxes which ensures that tobacco is sold at current and even higher prices".