I sincerely thank the Technical Group for affording me the time in which to contribute to the debate on this extremely important legislation. I had a very close friend who got up each morning at approximately 7 a.m. and who used to use just a single match to light his first cigarette. He would still be smoking when he was going to bed at night and he would not have used a second match during the day. He had the remarkable ability to use only one hand to light one untipped cigarette from another. On average, he used to smoke between 120 and 130 cigarettes each day. I calculate that if he was alive - Members will not be surprised to hear that he is dead - his habit would be costing him €22,000 per year at today's prices. The man to whom I refer spent an average of 900 minutes up and about each day and in all of the years I knew him he was never without a cigarette in his hand. I lost my friend and many others to tobacco-related diseases. We have all lost close friends in such circumstances. Cigarettes can finish people who are already in poor health in many different ways. They can drain the life and energy out of a person.
Smoking is a serious addiction and it is important that those in government and other politicians try to do everything to encourage people to abandon the habit. Unlike previous speakers, I will not disagree with what Deputy Finian McGrath stated. The entire purpose of a democracy is that public representatives are entitled to their own viewpoints and to represent people in the best way they see fit. In that context, I respect the opinions of Deputy Finian McGrath. I have my own opinions with regard to how we might get to where we want to be. I know where I would like to be, namely, in a country where no one smoked. I am a former smoker and, in that context, I would love to live in a country where no one - young, middle aged or old - purchased cigarettes. I accept that this could only be the case in an ideal world. We do not live in such a world and we will never do so. We must, therefore, assist people in recognising how bad smoking is for their health.
When what was then considered a very controversial ban on smoking in public houses was first introduced, I strenuously resisted it. I was of the view - it remains my opinion in some respects - that the law which was put into place does not cover all of the consequences to which the ban gave rise. In that context, I believed that it should have been possible to cater for elderly smokers within the confines of public houses in some way. I was of the opinion that it was disrespectful to turn such individuals out onto the streets in the rain in order that they might smoke. It was for this reason that I resisted the ban originally. If I was asked now whether the ban on smoking in public houses and in public buildings such as Leinster House was a good development, I would reply that of course that is the case. I would be obliged to raise my hand and admit that the good done by the ban outweighs all other considerations. It is a good person who can admit that he or she was wrong in some of the opinions he or she previously held.
Despite what I have just stated, however, I am of the view that, in the context of encouraging people not to smoke, we must be careful and ensure that we do not go over the top. If, for example, a person is driving alone in his or her car and if he or she smokes, it would be ridiculous to try to stop him or her from lighting a cigarette. We would be going completely over the top if we were to intervene in such circumstances. However, it is vitally important that we should do everything humanly possible to ensure that young people do not start smoking. It is disappointing and frightening that one in three women smokes. It is also frightening to think of beautiful young teenage girls taking up smoking. If such individuals develop the habit at a young age, it will be extremely difficult to encourage them to abandon it in later years. Smoking has implications not only for women's health and life expectancy but also for the health and life expectancy of their children.
Deputy Wallace referred to the importance of sport. It is great to encourage people to play sport or to be actively engaged in all sorts of other outdoor activities. This is because such pursuits involve individuals engaging in exertion and expending energy. If a person is involved in activities such as those to which I refer, it will deter him or her from a habit that will lead to him or her being short of breath and unable to run, jump, hop, skip or be lively. I must compliment those who run the GAA, our soccer clubs and the various other sporting organisations and the many of people who, on a voluntary basis, spend thousands of hours working to promote sport. Those to whom I refer actually live for sport.
These people provide an invaluable service. I do not agree with the argument that increases in the price of cigarettes will deter people from smoking. I know people who were smoking when cigarettes were €2 and €3 a packet and they are still smoking as many today even though a packet of cigarettes costs nearly €10. The Government is still happy to have the tax take. A parent who smokes is using money that may be badly needed to put food on the table or to pay bills. I do not agree that continually hiking up the price of cigarettes through taxation will stop people from smoking.
I remember the time when young people who were going out to a dance or a disco at the weekend would go to a pub to have their drink, but now they are staying at home until the last minute. They go to the off-licence early in the night to load up on cheap drink. They over-indulge in the cheap drink and then they go out to the disco and the dance. They are in no condition to be going out in public at all at that stage because they are so intoxicated. It is an education, and I have done it, but anyone who thinks I am mistaken should stand outside a nightclub here in Dublin and watch them going in. Their condition coming out is not much worse than when they went in because they were so bad in the first place. My point is that when one is trying to change a culture, one does not want to finish up with a situation in which the price of cigarettes is so expensive in the shops that people will resort to purchasing illegally imported cigarettes.
There is a massive trade in illegal cigarettes. Members have been provided with statistics for the amount of illegal cigarettes being brought into the country every year. It is flabbergasting. The people selling illegal cigarettes are involved in all other types of illegal activity. Criminal gangs are existing on the back of profits from the sale of illegal cigarettes. While discussing illegal cigarettes I will use the opportunity to compliment the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise service which, earlier this week, successfully captured a large amount of illegal drugs being brought into Kerry Airport in Farranfore. Through their work and their actions they stopped something in the order of €300,000 worth of illegal drugs going out onto the streets and being sold in Kerry, Cork and Limerick, predominantly to our young people. I also compliment the people in the intelligence organisations who knew that those drugs were coming into Kerry Airport last week and who were there to intercept them. That was probably only a dent in the armour of the people involved in this activity. We have to continue the fight against the illegal importation not just of drugs but also of cigarettes. It is a massive industry which has grown since the cost of a packet of cigarettes has risen in the shops.
I am the proprietor of a small shop and I have sold cigarettes for many years. Shopkeepers were always vigilant before the HSE was ever involved in enforcing the law prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to under-age people. Shopkeepers, like good publicans, were always diligent in this regard. A good publican does not want to sell drink to an under-age person, and a good shopkeeper does not want to sell cigarettes to an under-age person. I would be the first person to commend the HSE, the Irish Cancer Society and other groups that do great work to encourage people to stop smoking.
I support the HSE in all its endeavours as well as the Minister in this regard. However, I always regarded one practice as being extremely unfair and I never agreed with it even though the intention was well-meaning. The HSE has a practice of bringing a young person out in a car which calls to various shops. The young person is sent into the shop to purchase cigarettes. This is a test purchase. The young person will ask for 20 Benson & Hedges. If the shopkeeper does not realise that the person is under age and sells him the cigarettes, the youngster will go out to the car and inform the HSE personnel that the shopkeeper has sold him cigarettes. There will be no more about it that day but the shopkeeper will get a letter from the HSE containing a warning notice which states that he will be liable to a fine of €3,000 if it happens on a second occasion and he will lose the right to sell cigarettes for three or four months. I never agreed with that activity, even though I am against young people smoking. The reason I was so vehemently opposed to it was that it is very difficult to determine the age of some young people. I agree that shopkeepers should ask the question if they are in doubt or if there is ambiguity about the age of the person. I do not wish to wrong the HSE. If a shopkeeper questions the young person who is making the test purchase, that young person will admit that he or she is under age and walk out the door. The shopkeeper will receive a letter advising him that a test purchase was attempted in his shop, and it will thank him for his compliance and for his enforcement of the law. However, there may be an elderly person behind the counter in a shop who has difficulty judging the age of a young person who is a stranger to him or her, although he or she will know the local young people and their ages. I never liked that practice of the HSE. As a member of the HSE I raised it on various occasions, but that was my personal opinion.
We must make an effort to educate children at a very young age, at primary school level, about the dangers of smoking. It may mean bringing reformed smokers into schools, or those who are terminally ill because of smoking cigarettes. Young people are very impressionable, as we all know. If they hear horror stories when they are in national school or starting their secondary education and if they are exposed to the good HSE campaigns which highlight the awful results of smoking, this would have an effect on them. It would make them think twice before considering starting a habit that would cost them in sickness and death.
We have all heard stories about individuals who lived to be 90, despite having smoked 20 fags every day. Even so, one should consider the cost. If two parents smoke 40 cigarettes a day, it will cost them €14,000 a year. One should consider what they could do for their children with that sum.
The House knows my view on this issue, yet it is possible to go over the top. The recent suggestion that compounds such as yards should be non-smoking zones is not one with which I agree. In Leinster House this would mean a smoker would have to go to Merrion Street or Kildare Street to smoke. It is only shoving the problem away. I hate talking about a person when he is not present. Deputy Jerry Buttimer stated the banning of smoking on the campus in Cork University Hospital served as a great example, but it actually sent people on the campus out onto the footpath and the road. I was connected to the HSE at the time in question and remember councillors at HSE meetings complaining on behalf of local residents about people smoking on the footpath. The problem was shoved from outside the front door of the hospital onto the street. Stopping people smoking in the fresh air, or in the yard where smoke goes up into the sky, is not a proposal with which I agree. It is shoving the problem away and trying to hide it. It is as if people are not really smoking if they cannot be seen.
When I was in St. Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital for a long period many years ago, a certain consultant convinced me to stop smoking over the course of a number of conversations. He had a tough job convincing me, but I am very grateful to him. The Government should pursue sensible measures to reduce continually the number who smoke and stop young people from developing a habit. I would be extremely grateful to it if it did that work and I would support it in every way in that regard.