May I warmly congratulate the Minister on the enactment of this specially important public health legislation to protect public health in a singular way. In the years ahead, the Minister may reflect that this was the most important measure enacted by him during his period in office. I want to stress that we have had cross party support in the enactment of those measures over the past ten years, since the then Minister for Health, Deputy Haughey, introduced the first extremely important Act in 1978. But it has been a hard ten years. It has been a very difficult series of regulations arising from the 1978 Act. It has, and will, be seen as a decade of very major advance. The potential threat of the AIDS virus is horrific, but the actual damage caused day in and day out from the universal epidemic of smoking is infinitely greater.
Cigarette smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of illness in this country and throughout the western world. Even while we talk, some 17,000 deaths this year, or almost half of all the deaths in the country, will be directly attributable to diseases associated with smoking. About one in eight regular smokers die from tobacco and related coronary diseases. One in 15 regular smokers die from bronchitis and emphesyma. One in ten die from lung cancer as a direct result of smoking. These frightening statistics should have a great impact particularly on young women of child-bearing age, especially when they see the havoc smoking causes to themselves and their children. There is no need for me to go any further into this sad reality. With the Minister I appeal to young people who are smoking to realise the extraordinary danger they are in and to stop smoking.
I congratulate the Minister and the Government on their persistence over the past 15 months in bringing forward this legislation. I am particularly delighted that the Skoal Bandits have been covered in the legislation because I had enormous difficulty trying to find an effective statutory framework to prevent that dreadful product being imported, manufactured and distributed within the Republic. We are unique in Europe in that regard. I do not want to cavil on a party political basis, but despite my reservations — and the Minister knows they were considerable — about the abolition of the Health Education Bureau, his health promotion unit within the framework of the Department of Health will devote considerable attention to maintaining the enormous impetus of the Health Education Bureau in dealing with public health education on smoking. I urge the Minister to work very hard in that regard.
I am sure the Minister will take it in the proper spirit when I thank two and many more public servants who have been involved in this area. An assistant secretary in the Department retired a couple of months ago, Dr. Joe Robins. He campaigned within the public health framework unceasingly during his life-time to bring about those changes. He worked with a succession of Ministers, from the then Minister for Health, Deputy Haughey, in 1978 up to 1988 to bring about that fundamental change. I also want to thank the current secretary who in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987 — but particularly in 1985 and 1986 — had to face the combined opposition of the tobacco companies and many other influences, particularly some newspaper companies, which campaigned in every conceivable way against this legislation — politically, from the point of view of industry, and so on. There were no holds barred. I would hate to disclose some of the efforts made to prevent the regulations being brought in and the legislation being enacted. I am delighted that the former Taoiseach, Deputy FitzGerald, stood up to those blandishments. The present Taoiseach has also stood up to the pressures and we are bringing in quite exceptional and historic legislation this evening.
I attended last week a conference on allied health professions in Copenhagen. The Irish legislation of 1978, the regulations of 1986 and this Bill, which was available to the conference, were regarded as an historic breakthrough within the European Community. It is now regarded as a model by the Commissioner in charge of public health. Arising out of that development there is to be organised the first European health conference on tobacco policy in Madrid next November. Ireland features there with a huge plus and I am delighted the Minister has nominated a number of delegates to attend.
The legislation is of enormous importance. It is a benchmark of which the Dáil can be justifiably proud. I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues in Government for the work they have done and I urge that we should not stop there. Licensed premises, places of work and third level colleges do not come within the framework of this Bill but they can be included in due course. The horror which has been visited on many families and on ourselves and our parties by this addiction can be mitigated and removed as a matter of public health in the years ahead.
It would be very remiss of me not to put on the record the very considerable economic and social responsibility displayed by the tobacco companies in their negotiations with the Minister and previously with me, notably P.J. Carroll and Company. The marketing director of that company is a man of outstanding economic and marketing expertise and he has striven to diversify the company's role. In tandem with this legislation we can try to ensure the maintenance of employment in other fields. The company has been singularly successful in that endeavour. I am pleased to put on record the co-operation I received from the managing director and the marketing director of that company.