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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Mar 2000

Vol. 516 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Goraibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an díospóireacht seo. Tá an cheist thábhachtach seo faoi dheireadh a chur le caitheamh tobac á phlé againn agus déanaim comhgháirdeas leis an Teachta Shatter agus Fine Gael as an Bille a chur os comhair na Dála.

I compliment Deputy Shatter and the Fine Gael Party on bringing this Bill before the House. It is timely following the publication of the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. It has no doubt contributed to the announcement by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, that he will publish the Health (Amendment) Bill within the next fortnight. Having had for a time departmental responsibility for the anti-smoking campaign – I recall the Leas-Cheann Comhairle introduced the first anti-smoking legislation – I have a great interest in this area. I was a smoker when I was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health. Obviously I had to cease smoking and I have not smoked for more than five years. During my period in the Department of Health, like all converts, I became more and more opposed to smoking. The medical evidence and research spoke for itself. There are 6,000 deaths annually from smoking-induced ailments, whether respiratory or cardiovascular. There were also negative effects in relation to illness and reduced quality of life. I look to the day when tobacco smoking will be a thing of the past. However, like all desirable objectives, its achievement is easier said than done.

It is important that environmental regulations and legislation aimed at eliminating smoking are enforceable. If not, there is little point in introducing them in the first instance. I have misgivings about banning the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 18. The sale of alcohol to those under 18 years of age has long been pro hibited, yet it still happens to a considerable extent. The idea that the State should seek to prohibit alcohol or tobacco is laudable but enforcement requires extensive resources. Is the Government willing to provide these resources? There is a significant school of thought that supports the premise that price is the most effective mechanism in the fight against smoking. There is merit in this argument but, human nature being what it is, the position is not that simple. There is a very real danger that if tobacco becomes too expensive on the legitimate market, the possibility of the purchasing of tobacco going underground becomes all the greater. Prohibition of the sale of alcohol in the US brought about a plethora of anti-social consequences and was eventually abandoned. Balance is the key to success.

It appears the trend among young people in taking up the smoking habit is on the increase. It also seems that life skills programmes seeking to induce young people not to take up the habit have had little or no impact. It is clear that strong action is called for. However, in pursuing that strong action, the State must avoid creating the forbidden fruit syndrome which is always the most sought after. The trend in the increase in young people, particularly girls, taking up the habit in increasing numbers begs the question what is the attraction? I recall one piece of qualitative research into why girls take up the habit which found that peer pressure was the major reason. To be effective in influencing young people not to take up the habit, the ultimate consequences of smoking must be illustrated to them in a stark manner which will impact. Lecturing young people seldom brings worthwhile results. A multifaceted approach is how the best level of success will be attained.

The Minister in his statement yesterday spoke about smoking in public houses. I agree there should be talks with the vintners organisations. During my time in the Department there were efforts to set up a working group between the vintners organisations and the Department to develop this aspect of environmental regulations in relation to smoking. Many people nowadays do not like going to public houses and waking up the next morning with a smell of nicotine off their clothes, hair and so on. Substantial progress can be made in this area and the Minister should, by way of working group with the vintners organisations, explore the possibility of introducing new environmental regulations. Obviously if this proves unsuccessful, the Minister would have to deal with the matter from his own position given the advice from within the Department.

The Minister referred to a ban on sponsorship of Irish sporting events by tobacco companies. I compliment the Minister on taking this progressive position. However, alcohol must be examined in this context. I am concerned that where sporting success is being celebrated, all too often it is accompanied by the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol advertising surrounds many sporting activities in Ireland.

On anti-smoking campaigns, the ultimate objective is the eventual elimination of smoking. We need to focus on the positive aspects which include improvement in the quality of life for many people. We must bear in mind that it not just smokers who are affected but also those in close proximity to smokers. It has been well established that smoking has consequences for those who smoke and for passive smokers. There is the issue of life expectancy. We are all aware that there will never be sufficient resources in terms of the health service. However, if the resources now being used to deal with illnesses which arise as a result of smoking can be significantly reduced, there will be a great saving to hospital care services and those resources can be applied to other areas of health care.

I wish to share time with Deputies McGuinness, O'Flynn, Fleming, Pat Carey and Michael Moynihan.

I compliment Deputy Shatter on his work commitment as rapporteur to the Joint Committee on Health and Children. This Bill is a direct consequence of that report. Deputy Shatter will recall that on the day the report was launched I stated that the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, had commissioned the tobacco free policy review group. I am pleased the Minister, Deputy Martin, has committed himself to tackling this national scandal which kills up to 7,000 of the population each year.

I congratulate Deputy Shatter on the report and its findings which involved major research. His wife Carmel was involved in the research. It is important to keep this issue to the forefront and the Bill does exactly that. The Minister who has this week introduced his own review group is ad idem with us in terms of where we want to go in regard to the smoking issue.

We cannot allow smoking to continue unabated. We have got to tackle this problem and it is important to have a united approach. We are all aware of the cost in terms of lifestyle. It cuts ten years off the life of a person who continually smokes. It is a major financial drain on the health budget each year. The Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children said it costs anything up to £1 billion each year. That is an extraordinary amount of money. We can all think what could be done with it and the health service we could have if smoking was eradicated.

We cannot continue to tolerate the easy access to cigarettes for young people. We must advertise the addictive nature and composition of cigarettes and hold out the tobacco companies as taboo because of the way in which they subterfuge advertising to ensure young people are addicted.

The Minister's report introduced this week is incisive. The first line states that we have to change attitudes towards smoking. When compiling our report we became aware of the unco-ordinated nature of the advertising campaign to stop people smoking. This document looks at how to make smoking unpopular and uncool. It is as if, with the first cigarette, young people suddenly come of age, are robust and become an example to their peers. The Florida and the Canadian experience, in terms of advertising to ensure people do not commence smoking, has focused on young people and involved them in putting the advertisements together. Our advertising to date has been from the adult viewpoint and it is not having the desired effect on young people. The role should be reversed to ensure young people are involved in any future anti-smoking campaigns.

The legislation introduced in the past has been impressive. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you were complimented here tonight as being one of the first people who introduced controls on smoking in public places, and rightly so. The Minister said help must be readily available for those who have commenced smoking.

I wish to focus on environmental control which is also a feature of the review. We have reached the stage where the majority of restaurant owners would say good food, good wine and smoking are incongruous and would like to have smoking banned in restaurants. I strongly urge the Minister in the legislation he is introducing to adopt this line of approach.

I share Deputy Shatter's concern about vending machines and the availability of cigarettes. The issue will have to be tackled. In welcoming the Bill, the Minister, and the Joint Committee on Health and Children are ad idem on what the Deputy is trying to achieve. We cannot send out any signal of disagreement because it would be exploited by the tobacco companies. Given that the Minister has said his Bill will be introduced in two weeks, I suggest Deputy Shatter does not push his Bill, but let us move forward with a combined Bill which will embrace all the features which form part of his Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The anti-smoking campaign has been a feature of health promotion going back to when I was a teenager and that is not today or yesterday. One was encouraged, through the schools, not to participate in the habit of smoking. For one reason or another we have failed to change the culture of smoking. I hope the Minister's Bill will put on a firm basis steps which can be taken and policed to prevent smoking and ultimately to wipe it out. The sooner we get to the stage of being in control of the situation the better.

In the past the Irish Heart Foundation has been to the fore in ensuring the problems and the health risks associated with smoking were highlighted. The educational process, where it has to start, was entered into by the foundation. Through its efforts the campaign which has been brought to schools and organisations has highlighted the drastic effects of smoking on the lives of people.

Statistics show that more than 6,000 people per annum die from smoking related illnesses not to mention the serious adverse effects on our people and the cost to the health service. As outlined in the European Heart Network and the Irish Heart Foundation correspondence to us all, I would like to see the equation balanced. Cigarettes should come in packages of 20 or more and the cost should be such as to almost prohibit people from purchasing them. I agree with the Irish Heart Foundation that there should be an annual increase in the cost of cigarettes and that the sale of tobacco should be licensed and available to 18 year olds and over.

The Government should ensure appropriate funding is made available through schools and organisations such as the Irish Heart Foundation which supports the cause to promote the risks associated with smoking. The second phase of the campaign must assist the 80% of smokers who wish to give up smoking. Through legislation and education we must ensure these people are given every opportunity to overcome their habit.

I support the Minister in bringing forward the proposed legislation and I hope it will incorporate the submission made by the Irish Heart Foundation.

I ask Deputy Shatter to wait for the Minister's Bill which will be before the House in two weeks' time. There is no home in the country which has not suffered from the side effects of smoking. I was shocked to read in The Examiner recently that two thirds of all hospital admissions in Great Britain are for ailments caused by smoking. The expert cited stated chronic bronchitis, chest and heart diseases and cancer are among the multitude of smoking-related illnesses. Recently, the former chairman of the Southern Health Board, Dr. Catherine Molloy, spoke out strongly on the issue of smoking and her views are shared by the members of the Southern Health Board.

The Irish Heart Foundation has done tremendous work in promoting anti-smoking campaigns. The foundation's area manager in Cork, Paddy O'Brien, has campaigned to have annual health checks carried out and to promote non-smoking. Since assuming office, the Minister, Deputy Martin, has responded positively to the many calls he has received on this question and will shortly present a Bill to the House.

Smoking has wreaked havoc on the nation's health for too many years. Many years ago there were no health warnings on cigarette packets and people did not realise the consequences of smoking. In those days smoking was a habit of the adult population although some teenagers smoked. I remember being offered a puff after my Confirmation by an older friend who was out to prove that he was a man of the world. I failed the test of manhood by refusing to smoke at that time. I did smoke a little in my late teens and early twenties although not heavily.

The main focus of the Bill will be on teenage smoking. The National Youth Council of Ireland was shocked by the findings of a recent report which revealed that one in three people aged between 15 and 17 are smoking. Adults are becoming increasingly aware of the truth of the health warning on cigarette packets but unfortunately, more and more teenagers can be seen smoking on the streets, in bars and restaurants and in any public place where people congregate. The tender years of some of those inhaling nicotine comes as a shock to me. I can hardly accept that what I see is really happening, but I know it is.

In days gone by, smoking by young people was actively discouraged. As a young man I was told that if I smoked a cigarette I would stop growing. I may have been naive but I did not doubt that this would be the case. I am sure that advice, given to many of my age, discouraged many young people from smoking.

We are aware of the dangers of passive smoking. People who do not wish to expose their lungs to cigarette smoke are entitled to protection. There can be no softly softly approach to the elimination of smoking. There is no soft sell that will induce smokers to quit their addictive habit. There is only one way to address the many problems caused by the habit. It must be tackled head-on from the highest levels of Government. The World Health Organisation has defined tobacco use as a global epidemic. The report of the tobacco-free policy review group, chaired by Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has been published and is a model of its kind. The report breaks down the use of tobacco on the lines of gender and age and looks at the tobacco industry and its contribution to tobacco-related illnesses. It is a blueprint for the tough action that must be taken immediately against the use of tobacco.

Tobacco-related illness will kill half of those who smoke. Parents who smoke heavily are having a detrimental effect on their own health and on that of their children. Expectant mothers have long been advised against smoking while pregnant because of the potential damage to the health of the unborn child. Tobacco kills. This is the message which we must convey to smokers of all ages. People pay the price of lifelong addiction, crippling financial cost and disease when they smoke. Most hospital patients are people who have smoked throughout their lives.

The Minister says he wants to see a tobacco-free society. He believes this is achievable and so do I. We must help those who wish to overcome the habit and work to ensure our children are prevented from starting to smoke and that they get positive help if they have done so already. We face no easy task. The tobacco industry has international campaigns in place that paint a positive and attractive picture of the joys of smoking. The advertising of cigarettes has always focused on the benefits to be gained from being a smoker. We must nail those lies. The industry has successfully extended its market by making a sales pitch to the young smoker. This is to offset a reduction in the adult smoking population. The Minister is raising the age limit for the purchase of cigarettes to 18 years.

He is doing nothing.

Fines are to be increased. I compliment the Minister on the action he is taking with regard to vending machines. I fully support the Minister and I compliment you, Sir, on the excellent work you did on this matter when Minister for Health.

I recognise that Deputy Shatter has done much work in drafting the Bill which he has presented, but the best course is to await the Minister's Bill.

We must wait again. The problem will be put on the long finger again.

If so, it will be the shortest long finger ever because we are asked to wait only a couple of weeks.

I compliment the Minister for Health and Children. He has identified a very important issue and has launched a get tough policy on smoking. There is enormous public support for the Minister's initiative. Very few people could argue against it. Those who are addicted to cigarettes may object to this action but we have a duty to help these people overcome their addiction and stop smoking.

In recent times I have been concerned at the number of young people who have taken up smoking. A number of years ago the Health Education Bureau was responsible for a major advertising campaign to make it unattractive to people to smoke. I recall seeing billboards depicting a cigarette with a knot in it and slogans such as "Knot on your life". Ten or 15 years later I still remember those billboards. They were very stark and they contributed to a reduction in smoking at that time. However, smoking is once again on the increase and it is vital that we launch a new campaign to get tough on smoking.

It is important to concentrate on young people because smoking is an addiction and prevention is the best cure for any addiction. Ridding oneself of the habit of smoking is a painful and tortuous process. The Minister's initiatives will make it uncool to be seen smoking. Many young people have part-time jobs and more disposable income than young people had in the past. They use this extra cash to buy cigarettes. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he will eliminate the packet of ten cigarettes. Smokers will have to spend at least £3.68 for the standard packet of cigarettes. This will make people think twice about smoking.

The increase of 50p on a packet of cigarettes which was introduced in the budget is expected to generate approximately £132 million in revenue in the current year. The Appropriation Act which was passed last December earmarked this money for the Department of Health and Chil dren so that a major fund will be available to the Minister for Health and Children to promote health issues which relate to smoking. This measure is particularly welcome.

The cynics might say that the price of a packet of cigarettes was increased to gain extra revenue but to my knowledge as a member of the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service the decision was taken purely on health grounds. The question of additional revenue did not enter the debate at Government level. The increase of 50p on a packet of cigarettes led directly to an increase of 0.75% in the general inflation rate at a time when the Government was heading into national pay talks. Although this created difficulties, the Government was prepared to take the risk to drive home the message that cigarette smoking is not to be encouraged. I support the Minister on the new initiatives he has taken in that regard.

I place the tobacco industry and the gun lobby in the United States in the same category. They have the same insidious motives, undermine the good health of society and will do anything to promote their cynical initiatives. In the United States a short time ago a six year-old shot another six year-old. None of us should be under any illusion therefore about the task ahead. I compliment Deputy Shatter on introducing the Bill which presents a welcome opportunity to discuss a number of related issues. I also compliment the Minister on the initiatives he has announced in this regard.

We have a gargantuan task ahead of us. That being said – I am not sure everyone will agree – we have managed in a strange way to convince young people that it is no longer cool to drink and drive. There is a very high incidence of deaths on our roads as a result of drink driving, something the older population continues to do. I am not sure how the message is being sold but it does seem to have sunk in among younger members of the population that, apart from being life threatening, it is no longer cool to drink and drive. Can a similar message be conveyed in relation to smoking?

I spent 30 or more years teaching during which which time I often took youngsters from youth clubs away on holidays. I often found them behind trees with a cigarette in their pocket. They would deny to one's face that they were smoking, although a hole was being burned in their jeans. Smoking is an epidemic that needs to be addressed but it will not be addressed by wholesale banning. If anything, banning would lead to the creation of a black market. In the area I represent ways would be found to obain cigarettes off the back of a lorry to sell them in twos and threes. Banning is not the solution.

Many Members have high expectations on the role schools can perform in promoting a healthy lifestyle but there is a limit to what they can do. I promoted litter campaigns in school until the cows came home. As soon as pupils walked outside the gate of the school grounds which were perfectly tidy they were tossing crisp bags everywhere. Every day that I open my office I see girls primarily buying cigarettes in the local convenience shop and stamping on the butt at the school gates. Perhaps the attitude is that if one smokes one will have a more lithe figure and be able to wear cooler gear but there is much that organisations which deal with young people out of school hours can do. I welcome the intiatives taken by the National Youth Council in co-operation with the health promotions services. Much good work has been done in the Eastern Health Board in this regard. It has to be targeted at where young people are; otherwise it is money down the drain.

In the short time since the announcement was made that the selling of cigarettes in packets of less than 20 is to be banned I have been contacted by a number of shopkeepers to say, "Thanks be to goodness somebody is doing something" as they are being plagued by school kids. I commend the Minister on taking this initiative.

Thirteen local drugs task forces were established to combat drug abuse. Their remit should be extended to combat the scourge of tobacco abuse.

Both Deputy Shatter and the Minister have proposed that the sale of cigarettes to those under the age of 18 years should be banned. We should not kid ourselves into thinking that this will stop young people from smoking. One can drink legally at 18 years of age but as we are all aware young people are able to access alcohol at a much younger age, perhaps as young as 12 or 13. As Deputy Carey said there is a limit to what schools can do but we have to remove the cool image from smoking which is seen to be attractive among second level students in particular and, to a certain extent, in some primary schools. It is considered cool to be seen getting away with lighting up behind the diesel tank at the back of the school.

There is a need for a much better system of communication to educate young people on the harmful side effects of smoking. In this connection the tougher regulations on the tobacco industry are very welcome. Sideline advertising in motor sport in particular gives the impression that it is cool to smoke.

There is one point which has not been touched on. While we are all aware that smoking is anti-social and detrimental to one's health and well-being, there is little support within the health system for those with a smoking addiction. I therefore welcome the Minister's initiative in his action plan to make available through the health boards nicotine replacement therapy to encourage more people to give up smoking. Some 80% of smokers want to stop. We all know of people who used to smoke 50 to 60 fags a day and have quit the habit through sheer willpower and hard work.

I wish to share time with Deputies Bradford, Connaughton, Clune, Deenihan, Coveney, Perry and Boylan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to co-sponsor the Bill with Deputy Shatter whom I congratulate on producing it. I am extremely disappointed, however, at the reaction of the Government. This is an important issue and if the Government joins us tonight, we could have a measure passed into law before the summer recess which could make a real difference. The Government, however, has decided to go the other way for its own reasons. This House is not just a debating chamber; it is where we pass legislation. The Minister promised that he will publish a Bill in two weeks. Making announcements does not change the law; one must do more than that. The Government's record to date on this matter has been abysmal. We have had Deputies from the opposite side coming in here crying crocodile tears, saying how terrible it is, but doing nothing. Nothing has happened in two and a half years. The numbers smoking have increased.

The Government is being two-faced on this issue and I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, who is a medical doctor, to support this legislation. It can be passed into law before the summer and by the time the schools reopen in September the campaign can be up and running to ban cigarette smoking to those under 18. Otherwise it might be Christmas before it becomes law.

I have seen vending machines in hotel lobbies and all kinds of places where young people congregate and, as far as I am aware, the Minister has not alluded to vending machines. The onus of age verification must be placed on the retailers.

The Minister has had reams of publicity on this issue, but I call on the media to report tomorrow that the Government is against this measure. On Ash Wednesday the Fianna Fáil-led Government will vote against these measures which would help to stop smoking among children, and that is a disgrace. Let the Government bring forward its own Bill later with all the other measures in it and we will back it. We will not oppose its Bill but it will oppose this one. This has to do with political publicity and nothing else. It is a disgrace. The Government is spending £250,000 on anti-smoking measures but the tobacco industry is spending about £7 million on promoting smoking; it is like David and Goliath. The Government's credibility has been tested on this and sadly found wanting.

Some 22% of those between the ages of 15 and 16 – many of them girls – are smoking and the numbers are rising. The damage they are doing is crazy. This is one of the most additive drugs and once people start to smoke, it is almost impossible to stop.

We cannot place all of the responsibility on schools. We as legislators must take action. The measures in this Bill will go some way, admittedly a small way, to doing something about this problem and they could be in force by next September, but the Government does not agree. It wants its hour of glory and publicity. It says it will do it all. That is wrong.

There are two medical doctors in the Chamber, an Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Deputy Moffatt. I call on both of them to support the Bill. If they believe in what they practise, they should support the Bill because it would then become law before September.

The rate of smoking is alarming. Some 31% of the population smokes. The cost in human terms is crazy. A good friend of mine is in hospital at present and she has collapsed four times already. She is 59 years of age. The suffering she is enduring is horrendous.

We must take action on this issue. We can do it tonight if the Minister would change his mind. We will forget about the publicity campaigns and pictures in the newspaper; the Minister can have it all but he should do something here. Let us take action in this Chamber tonight and not wait until next October when the Dáil resumes to debate the matter. This is not good enough.

The Government has a glorious opportunity on Ash Wednesday to do something constructive about this measure. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, at this, the 11th hour, to change his mind and back this legislation. It does not make sense to vote against it. He is not opposed to it. There may be a need for minor amendments but they would be quickly sorted out on Committee Stage. If the Bill passes Second Stage tonight, it can be in committee in a matter of days, passed by the committee and passed into law. I do not know why the Government is acting in this way. I cannot understand it. The people will not be able to understand it either if the media does its job and reports that the Government voted against these measures tonight.

There are 32 national organisations under the National Heart Alliance calling for measures like this and the Government will vote against it. Why? It is one of the biggest pillars in the country at present.

When one passes any secondary school, one will see children of 12, 13 and 14 smoking, doing terrible damage to themselves before they go into school and when they come out in the evenings. It is crazy that this is happening. Deputy Pat Carey mentioned drinking and smoking but smoking is most addictive, that is the difference. I call on the Government to do something constructive tonight and let us pass this legislation into law.

I agree with what my colleague, Deputy Stanton, stated about the political reality of this debate. From what I have heard tonight and last night, there is cross-party support for the measures being proposed by Deputies Shatter and Stanton. I am rather disappointed that the new Minister has taken the opportunity not to support the Fine Gael legislation but instead to announce what he might or might not do next week, next month or whenever. It is bad for politics and it presents a bad image of politics when a common sense proposal with the full support of every Member of the House is not being passed into law simply because it was introduced on the wrong side of the House. I would have thought, as we enter a new millennium, that we would have been mature enough to ensure legislation which is good for the country and which is being advanced in the common good should be supported by all sides regardless of which party or Deputy tabled it. While I look forward to seeing what the Minister will produce in a few weeks and to that debate, I express my disappointment that the Fine Gael Bill is not being supported by the Government because any deficiency in the Bill could be amended on Committee Stage.

Some Members referred to the smoking issue as being a national scandal. Anything causing the deaths of 7,000 every year in Ireland is an epidemic and a scandal and needs urgent Government attention. The anti-smoking efforts, which vary from television and radio advertising to all other forms of advertising, which we have seen in place down through the years have failed. That one third of school children between the ages of 15 and 17 still smoke speaks for itself. Regardless of what we have done up to now, we must redouble our efforts. Apparently the Minister proposes to think of new methods to get the message across that smoking causes severe damage. I suggest he might liaise with some of the script writers on the television soap operas, which appear to have more impact on the man and woman on the street, and particularly on children, than many of the advertising efforts. If the script writers for "Fair City" and "Coronation Street" include episodes about the damage caused by smoking, that could be an effective method of getting the message across because unfortunately what we have been doing to date has not worked.

In the final minute available to me I want to refer to some of the recommendations made by Deputy Shatter at the Joint Committee on Health and Children. He proposed that nicotine replacement products should be available on the medical card system. That deserves the immediate support of the Government and should be put into practice immediately by the Minister and the health boards. He also proposed that the cost of tobacco products should not be taken into account in the consumer price index. It is ridiculous that when the Minister for Finance increases tobacco prices in the budget, which is good from a health point of view, it increases inflation. The CPI should be amended to take account of that. The committee also recommended that the price of cigarettes should continue on an upward spiral. These and other suggestions must be taken on board.

I am disappointed the Government is playing politics here and that the Fine Gael Bill is apparently being shot down.

I cannot understand why the Government has not accepted this Bill. I compliment Deputy on the work and effort he put into it. He went to America to talk to people there about what was happening. It would not be the first time he brought a successful Bill through the House so it cannot be faulted for lack of professionalism, as Fianna Fáil knows well. I am a Member of the House for too long to know that is something Fianna Fáil would do.

The Bill will be voted down tonight and we understand a new one will be introduced. We can only hope it will be brought in quickly and will contain all that is in Deputy Shatter's Bill. I support any measure that tries to prevent young people from smoking. It is a hideous, dirty habit and as sure as night follows day it will shorten people's lives. Those who smoke heavily will not have as good a quality of life as they might have otherwise.

I sat on the Committee for Health and Children when the tobacco companies gave evidence. They tried to convince the committee that smoking was not addictive. That must be the understatement of the year. We all know it is precisely because it is addictive that it is so difficult to stop smoking. They implied that thousands of people voluntarily stop smoking each year. That is true. We all know people who stopped smoking from fear of ill-health or sheer will power. What the companies did not tell us is the numbers who stop smoking are quickly replaced by younger smokers. The industry tries to target young people, though they do not admit that. The psychology behind it is that if 14 or 15 year olds are smoking they are likely to buy the product for a long time. The biggest problem is the difficulty of explaining to children the damage that will be done to their systems in 20 or 30 years. That is a lifetime away to a child of 13 or 14 years. If we could solve that it would go a long way towards resolving the matter. The decision to raise the age from 16 to 18 years is a step in the right direction. Permitting cigarettes to be sold only in packs of 20 is good but it will have limited effect. Everyone knows that if people want drugs they will get them and the same will happen with cigarettes.

It is important that every possible official signal should be given to young people at an early stage that smoking is taboo. If we could only get it across that the in thing is not to smoke we would be on the way to solving the problem. I do not have the answers but I hope the forthcoming legislation will help us to some degree.

I join in congratulating Deputies Shatter and Stanton on bringing forward this Bill. It is good to see something positive. We hear much talk and see press statements and announcements of intentions that do not come to anything but tonight we have a positive measure that could be implemented immediately. It is a relatively small Bill that could pass through the Committee on Health and Children and by next September we could have an Act in place banning the sale of cigarettes to those under the age of 18 years. All the evidence shows that if one starts smoking at a young age one will be a smoker for life.

I am a member of the Committee on Health and Children and Deputy Shatter, as rapporteur for that committee, has done a wonderful job in producing a report on health and smoking and a national anti-smoking strategy. There was much publicity surrounding it. I am glad that when the new Minister was appointed he announced his intention to address the ills of smoking in society. It would appear he had read the document and took on board much of what the committee recommended.

The rate of smoking is increasing in this country. In the 1970s, 43% of those aged 15 and over smoked. In June 1993, 28% of people smoked but last year two surveys showed 31% of the population smoke. We must tackle this issue. Some 20% of deaths are tobacco related. Six thousand people die each year from tobacco related illnesses, cardio-vascular disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory illnesses, emphysema, peptic ulcer disease, the list is endless. Some 1,500 people die from lung cancer. What is the cost of that to the health services, if we are to look at it from a monetary viewpoint? We must consider the health of the nation. I do not understand why we cannot implement a simple, positive measure prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to those under 18 years.

Adults can weigh up the pros and cons of smoking and make an informed decision but young children under the age of 18 cannot do so. Nicotine is addictive. Deputy Shatter in his report quoted an extract from the United States Food and Drug Administration's investigations into nicotine and its addictive nature which stated that nicotine in cigarettes and smokers' tobacco causes and sustains addiction. It is the psychoactive or mood altering effects on the brain that motivate repeated compulsive use of the substance.

I cannot emphasise too strongly my view that it is necessary to implement the Bill. I regret that the Minister is not accepting it. I hope something positive will be done in this area in the near future. It is a minimal change that would make a big difference to the health of the nation.

I will repeat some of the facts on smoking. Every year 6,000 people die from smoke related illnesses, about one-third are under 65 years. Some 25% of all heart disease deaths is caused by smoking. Smoking kills six times more people each year than the combined number that die as a result of road accidents, work accidents, drugs, suicide, murder and AIDS. Regarding children, those who start smoking before the age of 17 are significantly less likely to stop in later adult life. The earlier children start smoking the greater the risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. As regards passive smoking, infants of parents who smoke are twice as likely to suffer from asthma or serious respiratory infections. At least one quarter of the risk of death due to sudden infant death is as a result of parental smoking. Nicotine inhaled by children of parents who smoke is equivalent to the child smoking 100 to 150 cigarettes per year.

Enforcement of the legislation on the sale of cigarettes to children is very weak. Environmental health officers have no right of entry to the premises within which they are supposed to enforce the law. Neither do they have the right to request the names and addresses of offenders. This aspect of the legislation must be changed. Also, there must be more protection of children from passive smoking in restaurants, shopping centres and at sporting and leisure events by extending legislation as necessary. People do not even comply with non-smoking regulations on trains and in other areas where smoking is prohibited.

Time and again over the past 17 years I have emphasised the need for a proper health education programme. Current arrangements are ad hoc and based on knee-jerk reactions. We have no health education programme despite what the Minister and his predecessors promised.

It is cynical of the Minister to reject the Bill given that it has been crafted by one of the best parliamentarians ever to serve in the House, aided by Deputy Stanton. The Bill is flawless, something we all stand over. If the Minister wanted to send out a clear anti-smoking message he should have accepted the Bill.

Mr. Coveney:

I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill and congratulate Deputy Shatter on bringing it before the House. It is very frustrating and surprising that the Minister has decided not to accept the Bill, particularly considering the recent publicity and clear anti-smoking stance which he has taken. At last there seems to be a general acceptance in the House that we must get tough on smoking by introducing policies and laws which restrict the sale of cigarettes.

The impact of smoking on the quality of people's lives is undeniable. Thirty one per cent of people now smoke and levels of lung cancer are higher than ever before, with between 1,500 and 2,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer every year. More young women in particular are smoking than ever before, with 40% of women between the ages of 18 and 40 lighting up regularly. I wonder if they realise the increased likelihood of exposure to cancer of the cervix, for example, or complications with pregnancies and fertility as well as the obvious potential lung problems.

We must accept that despite the large resources and effort to promote the dangers and negative health risks of smoking, little or no progress has been made towards reducing the numbers of smokers. In fact the opposite has happened. We must ask what we can do to challenge the increase in smoking. The fact that one in three young people between the ages of 15 and 17 smoke is frightening when one considers the long-term consequences. According to the National Youth Council of Ireland, 80% of smokers become addicted between the ages of 14 and 16. This statistic is all the more extraordinary when one considers that a person aged 14 or 15 should not be allowed access to cigarettes.

The advertising campaign to dampen the attraction of smoking has clearly failed while current laws restricting the sale of cigarettes are clearly not being adhered to. If accepted the Bill proposed by Deputy Shatter will make a serious impact on reducing the number of young people smoking, which in turn will reduce the number of potential addicts to nicotine. Increasing the age limit from 16 to 18 years is a serious step forward. Controlling the placing of cigarette machines is another step forward. It is a simple, straightforward Bill which is easy to understand and is consistent with what the Minister has said about smoking over the past number of weeks. I cannot understand why he is not accepting the Bill. The only reason I suppose is that he is playing politics with the issue, something I very much regret.

I compliment Deputy Shatter on the Bill and on his excellent report. Of 1,000 people aged 20 years who take up smoking and continue smoking for their adult lives, at least 250 will die from smoking related conditions before the age of 70 and a further 250 will die from smoking related conditions before the age of 75. Smoking is currently the single most important preventable cause of death. It is estimated that more than 6,000 people die in Ireland each year from conditions directly related to smoking and countless thousands more are admitted to hospitals with smoking related conditions. Smoking is a major causal factor in heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other cancers, chronic bronchitis and a host of other serious conditions. Smoking during pregnancy is a cause of low birth rate, and infants exposed to cigarette smoke in their homes or other environments are at increased risk of serious illness, including sudden infant death syndrome and recurrent ear infections. Thus, the human and economic costs of smoking are enormous.

Most people take up smoking in their teenage years. There is considerable evidence that the tobacco industry in its advertising campaigns specifically target young people. Nicotine in tobacco is a highly addictive drug. The marketing strategy of the tobacco industry is based on the need to recruit new addicts to replace those who die from the habit. The Government must confront the tobacco industry. Currently, there is major concern about the possible adverse affects of Sellafield. While this is an important issue, it is dwarfed by the toll of suffering and death associated with the marketing of tobacco products. We must continue to increase the price of cigarettes and there should be a complete ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship with immediate effect. The proposal to raise the legal age for the purchase of cigarettes should be warmly endorsed. We must also ensure that the legislation, once in place, is enforced as current regulations are not being enforced. The Government should also consider raising an additional health levy from the tobacco industry to cover in part the cost of treatment for tobacco related illnesses. The Government should also support efforts to pursue the tobacco industry in court for damage relating to the marketing of tobacco products. It is a hugely profitable industry which makes millions of pounds and the best route is to pursue the industry through the courts, something which has had a huge effect in the US. It is the best way of precipitating an immediate effect.

As a seller of cigarettes I am aware of the difficulty in policing the market, with older people buying cigarettes for those below the legal age.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to make a contribution on what is one of the most important debates in the House this session. I regret the Government has not seen fit or been big enough, and that the Minister has not been man enough, to take on board this excellent Bill introduced by Deputy Shatter, an able parliamentarian as has been correctly stated, and Deputy Stanton. The Minister is a former Minister for Education and Science, and I paid public tribute to him for being excellent in that portfolio. He is aware of the involvement of young people in smoking and now that he is Minister for Health and Children he has an opportunity to do something about it, but has rejected the good proposal made by Deputy Shatter. It is a contradiction, but the entire smoking industry is a total contradiction.

Advertisements for cigarettes contain warnings in very small print saying "Government warning: smoking damages your health". However, the print is so small that this can hardly be read. Sports organisations across the board are being sponsored by cigarette manufacturers, the very industry that destroys health. It is a total contradiction which is being aided and abetted by the Minister. The signals coming from the House, and God knows there have been enough bad signals over the past number of months, are not the right ones we should be sending to young people. We must take seriously what is being said here and ask young people, for God's sake, to stop smoking and ruining their health. It is a very serious problem and we should have taken it on board, something we have not done.

I welcome the no smoking areas in various public places. However, parents who wish to have a smoke bring their children into smoking areas. Those children have no say and doing so should be illegal. It is wrong for parents to be puffing away at their cigarettes with small children at their knees, and it should not happen. Believe it or not, I saw this happening this evening in the self-service restaurant. Parents, who were obviously visitors, were in the smoking area with smoke swirling around their two small children. Those children have no say, and they must get a proper start in life. Addiction starts at this stage, and once addiction takes hold it seems nearly impossible to break the habit, and it certainly takes a great amount of will power and effort to break it.

We know that smoking causes heart disease and cancer, and we are familiar with the health care bill confronted by the State. However, the concern is not so much the bill as the unfortunate people who have damaged their health as a result of something to which they became addicted when they were young and when they had no guidelines from their parents who have the responsibility to bring up their children properly. If parents are not prepared to do that, then we, as legislators, must enact laws that will protect children. We expected to do that tonight. It is an excellent Bill, which would have stood up legally. It has been rejected by the Minister and he must answer to the public for that.

I compliment Members for their valuable contributions to this important debate. In particular, I thank Deputy Batt O'Keeffe who, as chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, initiated and directed a substantial inquiry into the issue of tobacco and health. Deputy Shatter was rapporteur to that committee and he also deserves praise for his work in producing a fine report.

Strong support from all sides of the House for real and substantial action in this area has generally been expressed during the debate. There was not any opposition to the good initiation behind Deputy Shatter's Bill. However, one of the key messages of both the Oireachtas joint committee report and that of the tobacco free policy review group was the need for a multi-sectoral broad based approach using a wide array of instruments, including legal ones. That is the right way to address this issue. The Government shares the concerns expressed by the Members about the urgency of dealing with this matter.

We have already taken significant steps. We introduced the highest ever increase in taxes on cigarettes in the 1999 budget and are advised that high prices are the single most effective barrier to young people smoking. We are currently establishing the office of tobacco control and are in discussions with the Department of Finance in regard to recruiting staff. Office accommodation has been identified and is being readied. We intend that the office will be operational by June 2000.

Deputy Shatter's Bill in some ways demonstrates the dangers of taking individual initiatives outside the context of a broader policy and strategic framework. The proposal that the Govern ment should introduce compulsory signage in retail outlets is a good example of this problem. The report, "Towards a Tobacco Free Society", recommends that all forms of display at retail level should he prohibited. This recommendation would ensure that in future tobacco products would no longer be visible at retail outlets. The presence of a sign alerting children that there is a dangerous product on sale in the shop would probably act as an inducement to a young person to look for cigarettes rather than a deterrent.

That is crazy.

That is pathetic and it does not become a Member of this House.

It is credible.

It is incredible.

That is pathetic. It is the exact opposite of the experience in America.

The Minister without interruption, please.

We have considerable difficulty, therefore, with the type of signage proposed by Deputy Shatter for retail outlets.

This is according to a Minister in the Department of Health and Children.

I have a somewhat similar difficulty in regard to vending machines. The Deputy's legislation proposes that vending machines should be restricted to areas frequented by persons over 18 years. However, the report, "Towards a Tobacco Free Society", agrees with that concept, but there is a serious question about the enforceability of this measure. The Bill proposes significant raising of fines for offences and, again, the Minister has signalled his support for that. However, the Government's legal advice is that the upper threshold allowable for summary convictions is £1,500.

That advice is wrong.

Mr. Hayes:

Amend it.

Deputies will have an opportunity to speak later.

We are introducing a more comprehensive Bill in two weeks but we are also examining a more comprehensive range of penalties in this matter. Clearly, penalties in the order of £1,500 are significant for small retailers but we must look to a different order of magnitude when addressing errant behaviour by tobacco companies.

The Government is conscious of the valuable contribution Deputy Shatter has made to this debate and we are also in considerable sympathy with him in his enthusiasm to act quickly. However, this time we must get it right and ensure that our new policy is supported by real teeth and resources. Past initiatives from all Governments have been less successful than was intended because of the lack of a sustained commitment and proper resources. There have been some negative comments about our new policy. It is open to everyone to criticise those elements of the report about which they have reservations or misgivings. Such criticism can draw attention to opportunities to improve and enhance our policy.

However, all Members should also focus on the report and read it carefully as it is excellent and incorporates best practice from around the world. Some of the criticisms made of the report last night were simply wrong. I refer, for example, to Deputy Shatter's complaint that his proposal that the broadcasting of Formula 1 races should be accompanied with suitable warnings concerning the dangers of tobacco was omitted. This criticism ignores the recommendation in paragraph 3 on page 48 of the report. The group was very conscious of the problem posed by the broadcasting of sporting events which carry tobacco advertising.

The Minister of State wants a committee to consider the issue rather than make a decision about it.

It will not be law until Christmas.

When will it be enacted?

I again compliment Deputy Shatter on his commitment to this issue. I assure the House that it is our intention to publish the miscellaneous health Bill in the next couple of weeks and that it will propose raising the age from 16 years to 18 years. I further assure the House that the Government will introduce a comprehensive Bill later this year following which there will be an opportunity to have a full debate on the issue of tobacco and public health.

Mr. Hayes:

I wish to share my time with Deputies Burke, Crawford and Shatter.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Hayes:

I have rarely heard a more pathetic speech from a junior Minister in my two and a half years as a Member of the House. It is the most ridiculous set of arguments I have ever heard in response to a Bill which has the support of all sides of the House. The Minister of State said that there was no opposition to the good initiation to Deputy Shatter's Bill. Why, therefore, will there be a division on it at 8.30 p.m.? If the Minister of State and his colleague, the Mini ster for Health and Children, are in favour of the good intention of Deputy Shatter's Bill, they should support it. That is what Second Stage is all about.

The Minister of State's view on specific fines for small retailers was interesting. He is now concerned about small retailers. He dropped his guard and spoke more as a Minister for industry and commerce than one with responsibility for health affairs. It is quite ridiculous and it makes a mockery of Parliament that despite the fact that a committee of this House which has considered these matters for some time and the involvement of a parliamentarian of the standing of Deputy Shatter, we are following a procedure whereby there will be a division at 8.30 p.m. on a Bill which everyone supports. That is a complete joke. People outside the House laugh at us day and night and now the Government is making a mockery of the parliamentary system and the committee system.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government regularly refers to the fact that all of us should be legislators and spend more time in the House and on committee work. A committee of the House and Deputy Shatter have done the work for the Government, yet it will vote down this measure at 8.30 p.m.. It undermines the laudable comments of Deputy Dempsey and others. When the bar has been raised for the new Minister with his new branding for Fianna Fáil, etc., he will fall at the first fence because he is going back to the old ways.

The way to run a Parliament is to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. It is not the exclusive responsibility of the Executive to pass legislation in the Oireachtas. It is the responsibility of 165 Members and the Ceann Comhairle to ensure that legislation is passed. It is not the sole preserve of the Executive to introduce legislation before the House and expect all of us to support it.

There have not been any substantive points of difference on Deputy Shatter's legislation, except that the fine should be £1,500 instead of £2,500. Such an argument could be teased out on Committee Stage. It is not a substantive point to make against the Bill and the Government, even at this late stage, should support it and their colleagues on the committee who wholeheartedly supported the recommendations behind this Bill.

I support Deputy Shatter's initiative on this important issue. The Minister has lost a wonderful opportunity. Even at the eleventh hour he should change his mind and show that all of us in the House are united on this. He should send a message to young people that they should not smoke at a young age and that we are serious about this issue. The Minister is still in the shadow of his predecessor. I thought he would have come out of that. We would have expected the former Minister to jackboot an initiative like this and, unfortunately, the Minister has copied him on this issue.

I want to refer to two issues. As a member of the Western Health Board, I was horrified to learn that a health board, a statutory body, used a child as a pawn to bring to justice a shopkeeper it wanted to catch selling cigarettes to people under age. That was despicable. I ask the Minister, the first opportunity he gets, to issue a directive to every health board that they should no longer use children in this way, even if no other way is open to them. That is a sad indictment of our country. I am horrified that children would be used in this fashion and I hope it stops. Regardless of the legislation we have to bring in and the methods we have to use to stop young people from purchasing cigarettes, we should not use a child as a pawn. When this particular shop owner was convicted, it had to be stated that a child was sent into the shop on the initiative of a health board officer.

We have to decide whether this is a health and education issue or a legislative issue. Having spent 20 years teaching in a classroom, I know that legislation will not completely prevent smoking among young people. The only thing we can do is highlight, through education, the health issues involved. Unfortunately, neither resources nor time have been made available in the schools to provide education in that regard, except where an individual teacher uses his or her own initiative because of their personal feelings against smoking. It is important that the Minister works out some system, in co-operation with the new Minister for Education and Science, so that this issue can be raised in the schools in a positive way. We must teach young children that there is nothing glamorous about smoking.

How can employers provide a smoking area where employees can smoke in the workplace? I know legislation demands that but this matter should be re-examined. I wholeheartedly support Deputy Shatter's Bill.

I want to thank all who contributed to this debate on both sides of the House. Tonight will be a bad night for democracy, for this Parliament, for our committee system, for the health of the country and for young people. We have a very simple Bill before the House which proposes to outlaw the sale of cigarettes to children under 18 years of age. The measures contained in it reflect identically those recommended by the Joint Committee on Health and Children when it supported unanimously measures in the report prepared by me for the committee as rapporteur. There are ten Fianna Fáil members of that committee. There is a Fianna Fáil chairman of that committee, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who contributed to the debate this evening. The Government has decided that it will vote down this Bill. Why has it done that? We have a Government which says that Members of this House should act as legislators. We have a Minister who wants to change the Constitution to change the electoral system so we can act as legislators, but what happens when Members on this side of the House try to act as legislators? We are told to get back into our boxes, that our job is not to be legislators but to simply debate. This is not just a debating chamber. It is a legislative assembly. We are not just debaters. We are legislators, and the most relevant work this House does that affects the lives of people is the enactment of legislation but the Government wants to consign Members on this side of the House to the position of legislative irrelevance. This Government favours parliamentary eunuchs, forever talking but never legislating.

This Minister, the new Minister for Health and Children, held out so much promise. He was the Minister who would bring in a new dawn in the Department of Health and Children, the Minister to replace a predecessor who was not up to the job, but this evening this Minister is going back to the future. We are coming back to the time I remember in this House in the 1980s when Ministers jealously guarded their ministerial position and saw legislation brought forward from the Opposition side of the House as some sort of an attack on their ministerial status. Legislation was not seen as something constructive or as an advancement of policy. It was regarded as something one never let an Opposition Deputy do because if there was a good idea out there, they wanted to get the publicity for it. The Minister got the publicity for it yesterday.

The work was done by the Joint Committee on Health and Children which produced the most detailed report ever on the issue of health and smoking. The report I wrote for that committee was then replicated by a report the Ministers' group published, a report that required an entire committee to write and two years to produce, a report that falls short in a number of respects to the recommendations made in the Joint Committee on Health and Children report.

Both reports state that, first, we should ban the sale of cigarettes to children under 18 and, second, that we should increase the penalty for those who engage in under-age sales. What we had yesterday was major news. The Minister held a press conference and announced his intentions. We have reported today that the Minister declared a "cigs" war and that the legal age has already been raised to 18. The Minister declared war yesterday but he is surrendering tonight in this House.

The white flag.

The Deputy knows that is not the case.

He is surrendering to the tobacco companies who want to drag out the legislative process, who want to continue to target children, who want to continue to ensure that teenagers become nicotine addicted and are the smokers of the future, to maintain the profits tobacco companies continue to generate.

What the Minister should be doing tonight, on international no smoking day, is joining with this side of the House. This House should be sending out a clear message to young people that all sides in this House are committed to ending the scandal of young teenagers becoming nicotine addicted, that they want to end the scandal of the cigarette manufacturers targeting children, that they want to stop retailers ignoring the law in selling cigarettes to young children and that they favour more than just talking about banning the sale of cigarettes to those under 18.

All the Minister, the Minister of State and their colleagues on the benches behind them have done is talk the talk. We are asking them tonight to vote with us to support this Bill. Do not divide the House. How can the Minister explain tomorrow morning the fact that he held a press conference on Tuesday at which he said he intended to ban the sale of cigarettes to children under 18 and then walked into the Dáil lobbies on Wednesday and voted against banning the sale of cigarettes to children under the age of 18? What is the explanation?

Even Minister O'Rourke would not do that.

The explanation is that he did not want Fine Gael to do it; he thought Fianna Fáil should do it. He thought that if Fine Gael had legislation enacted into law within a couple of weeks of him becoming Minister, it might undermine his public credibility in some way. That is the only way the Minister can explain the manner in which his party colleagues and he will behave in this House this evening. It is a disgrace, because we know cigarettes are the only commodity sold by manufacturers who know the product they are selling is killing their customers. We have a duty to our children not only to enact this legislation, but to take a broad range of other initiatives to end youth smoking. I ask the Minister not to divide the House tonight and to allow the Bill to pass Second Stage. He can produce whatever Bill he wants. I do not mind if he produces another Bill in two weeks which says exactly the same thing. I do not care which Bill is enacted. I am interested in the issue; I am not interested in parish pump politics—

The Deputy should conclude.

—or in saying I did it ahead of someone else.

I do not believe the Department of Health and Children will produce the Bill in two weeks. If this Bill passes Second Stage tonight, we can enact it into law before the summer recess. Delaying it means we will not do that. If this Bill is enacted into law, it will stop retailers, because of the stringent penalties contained in it, continuing to engage in under age sales. It is regrettable that the Bill about which the Minister and the Government is talking, if and when they produce it, seeks to impose far less stringent penalties than those prescribed in this Bill. Let us not vote this Bill down tonight and divide the House. Let us send a clear message on international "no smoking" day to under 18s that this House wants to stop them smoking and stop unscrupulous shopkeepers selling cigarettes to susceptible children.

There will be two Bills before the House in two weeks. I take on board the views Deputy Shatter expressed in terms of not wanting to divide the House on the issue. The Government Bill will be introduced in two weeks and we can move it forward. I do not wish to oppose the Bill on that basis. If we can have a united House on the broader issue, I have no difficulty with that.

Question put and agreed to.