UPDATE 1-Japan Tobacco threatens legal action against Ireland over cigarette packaging

(Updates with confirmation, quotes from JTI)

DUBLIN, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Ireland is to proceed with plans for a law requiring tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packets, legislation that has prompted a threat of legal action from Japan Tobacco International.

Ireland said in 2013 it wanted to become the first country in the European Union to ban branding on cigarette packages. Australia introduced a ban a few years ago as a way to reduce smoking and is facing challenges at the World Trade Organisation over complaints the laws create illegal obstacles to commerce.

Japan Tobacco, whose cigarette brands include Camel and Winston, has now threatened legal action against Ireland’s plans.

“We have informed the government that we stand ready to file legal proceedings should it continue pushing for a ‘cut and paste’ policy that has failed in Australia,” Japan Tobacco International Ireland general manager Igor Dzaja said in an emailed statement.

“Plain packaging puts politics before evidence,” he said.

The company said the move would cast doubt on Ireland’s reputation for protecting intellectual property rights and would undermine its ability to attract foreign direct investment.

The minister who designed the legislation, James Reilly, said the government would proceed. He said tobacco branding was not something that anyone who had any regard for public health could possibly fail to address.

“The government have been advised by the Attorney General that there is no reason to delay the bill,” Reilly, the minister for children and former minister for health said in an interview with RTE radio. He said the legislation would be ready within weeks.

The Irish parliament’s health committee is due to debate the legislation on Tuesday.

The British government has said it plans to introduce a similar law before May. (Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by David Holmes and Jane Merriman)