Wednesday 16 January 2013
This time last year the HSE introduced a smoking ban in all hospital grounds. As one who lives in Bishopstown, a suburb of Cork in which Cork University Hospital is situated, I wish to commend both the staff and the visitors who have embraced the smoking ban in place in the grounds of CUH. I also compliment the staff of Mercy University Hospital. We have seen the benefit of the ban at work in the grounds of these hospitals.
If we are to be serious about the cessation of smoking the comments of Deputy Doherty must be listened to because a very smart marketing move is being made by cigarette manufacturers to target young women. I do not mean to be sexist. The context is that one must look slim, fit and healthy and smoking can help to achieve that. Of course that is not true. In the course of supervising when I was a schoolteacher, I spoke to many young women and men who now use cigarettes as an appetite suppressant. Rather than eating they smoke. We must dispel that myth, that message. Smoking is bad, it damages one’s health and has a profound impact on both public and personal health. We must never dilute that message.
We must also unite with retailers against smuggling because the effect of illegal tobacco smuggling is enormous. We must take umbrage at the fact that people are attempting to smuggle cigarettes into our country. The figures show that one in three cigarettes is bought on the illegal black market rather than in legitimate stores. I will return to that point.
I wish to put on record my thanks and appreciation of the work of the Irish Cancer Society. Former Senator Kathleen O’Meara and Mr. Chris Macey have been leading a public health campaign to show us not only the effects of smoking but also the benefits of not smoking and the positivity that can accrue to our public health system, the work day and the productivity of our citizens from persuading people away from smoking.
I am struck by the level of debate and the hostility on the part of those who smoke to the cessation of smoking. Surely the reduction in the number of people who smoke should not pose such a challenge to those tasked with the responsibility of introducing legislation and policing public health. Protecting our citizens, no matter what their age is, who they are or what stratum of society they come from, is what we are trying to do by introducing the measures in this Bill. It should not be so complex and so difficult. I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Our public health policy requires that each Member in this House stands up and is responsible for promoting public health measures. I genuinely could not understand or comprehend Deputy Finian McGrath’s Second Stage contribution this morning. It just did not make sense. I must put that on the record.
Of course legislation on its own will not stop people smoking. What must accompany it is the need to constantly highlight not only the detrimental effects of smoking but also the costs to public health and to a person’s life and well-being. That is why it is important that cigarette packaging will display the proposed imagery and that there is a genuine movement towards having bland packaging. I hate to use the pun but it comes to a point where we can no longer be passive bystanders on this journey – we must be aggressive. I say this as one who grew up in a house where my father smoked, where friends smoke, where my partner smoked – and gave them up. I heard Deputy Kelleher speaking about people who were challenging themselves on this journey. We must all support one another. When Senator Crown brought a motion before the health committee he may have missed an opportunity to make this House and campus smoke-free. As and from 2 January at least 1,130 colleges and universities in the United States of America adopted having a 100% smoke-free campus. The policies they are pursuing eliminate smoking in both indoor and outdoor areas across the entire campus, including residences and other accommodation. I hope that in the city of Cork, University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology, the Cork College of Commerce, Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa and Griffith College, as the leading third level institutes, could lead this campaign with a pilot scheme in our country. We must educate and empower our young people. We have a green school award for environmental issues. Deputy O’Donovan and I have made the case for having a green flag for obesity. We must take action on cigarette smoking to a different level again and must challenge people, in the interests of public health, not only to cease smoking but to make it easier to give up. In that way the Minister, the Department of Health, the HSE, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation can collaboratively play a role in this ongoing campaign. If we think for one moment that this Bill will stop people smoking we are misguided. It will not. The Minister stated that one in four adults smokes and that almost 5,000 people will die of smoking-related diseases such as cancer each year. That is a huge number of our fellow citizens.
I understand that pricing is an issue and am open to debate this. I have attended meetings with retailers in my city, Cork, who say the price of cigarettes is costing them jobs.
We cannot merely consider the matter from that perspective. We must also consider it in the context of the revenue that accrues to the Exchequer and of the benefits obtained by retailers from the sale of cigarettes.
We must examine the position with regard to tobacco smuggling in the context of the Bill. I am of the view, particularly in light of evidence provided by Retail Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation, that the black market is thriving. There is a need for a high level of vigilance on the part of customs officials in respect of the smuggling of illegal and low-cost, low-quality cigarettes into Ireland. Those involved in this activity are targeting young people. Traditionally, even those involved in the promotion and sale of legal tobacco products – such as manufacturers and others – have targeted the latter.
It is important to keep matters simple. We must send out a strong message regarding both the direct and side effects of smoking. The excise revenue we gain from the sale of cigarettes should be used to fund a public health campaign. We must also consider the position with regard to the sale of illegal tobacco on the black market. There is another issue, namely, that which relates to duty free sales in airports and elsewhere, with which we must deal. We must also be cognisant that while tobacco products cannot be displayed behind sales counters in shops, etc., the fact that they are there is still being made evident in a particular way.
The Bill is an important step forward. Many concerns have been highlighted by those on different sides of the argument. As both a Member of this House and as a legislator, I must do what is best in the context of public health. That is why I am of the view that we should strengthen our resolve with regard to the effects of tobacco and that we should introduce new technologies to combat both the activities of those who smuggle illegal tobacco products and the growth in sales of such products. There must be swift and severe penalties for those who are caught engaging in the sale of illicit tobacco products. We must send a message to those who purchase such products that they will not be treated any differently from those who either smuggle them into the country or sell them. Those to whom I refer are doing a disservice to society.
We must send out a strong message that smoking is harmful. I challenge the universities in Cork to lead the way in the context of introducing a pilot scheme. I commend Cork University Hospital and Mercy University Hospital, Cork, on the way in which they have embraced the smoking ban.