I am sharing time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Seamus Healy.
Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)
Is that agreed? Agreed.
We are all very aware of the consequences of smoking. Somebody who smokes today does so in the full knowledge of the possible consequences for his or her health. While I do not smoke and have never done so, both of my parents were heavy smokers for all of their adult lives. Of course they started to smoke at a time when no one was aware of the health risks of smoking. They both enjoyed smoking too much to give it up. Unfortunately, they paid the price when they died in their early 70s from smoking-related illnesses. There is a part of me that can accept the adult decision to smoke. I know there are Deputies in this House who enjoy smoking. However, I think we have to do all we can from a prevention and education perspective to discourage young people, in particular, from smoking. We should also give those who wish to give up smoking every encouragement and incentive to do so.
The statistics in this regard are frightening. The explanatory memorandum that accompanies this Bill informs us that "tobacco smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in Ireland" and that "approximately €500 million of health expenditure in Ireland is directly due to smoking related diseases". I know the Minister has taken a very firm stand against the lobbying powers of the tobacco companies. We have one of the highest smoking rates in Europe. The explanatory memorandum states that "smoking prevalence in Ireland remains high at 22%", but I have seen reports that suggest that the figure is closer to 28% or 29%. I have observed from my work as a teacher and through my involvement in youth work that the number of young boys who smoke has decreased, but the number of young girls who smoke has undoubtedly increased. This initiative will not work on its own. It has to be part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to controlling smoking nationally. It is obvious that a multi-pronged approach is needed.
It is notable that this legislation is supported by a number of children's and health charities, some of which presented some interesting evidence in a comprehensive briefing document. They argued that if cigarette packets are the same drab colour, size and shape, it will result in a reduction in the number of smokers. I have my doubts about that. If somebody wants to smoke, I do not think it will matter to them what size, shape or colour the packet is. The charities referred to some evidence on plain packaging from New Zealand, Scotland, Brazil and Canada. There is no doubt that drab plain packaging will be less attractive than branded cigarette packaging, but the question of whether that will cause people to stop buying cigarettes is a different matter, given that nicotine and cigarettes are highly addictive. The charities also suggested that plain packaging will eliminate the tobacco industry's last great marketing tool. I have some doubts in that regard, in light of the amount of money tobacco companies spend on marketing. I am quite sure other marketing tools will be found to boost cigarette sales. That is why I am arguing for a much more holistic and comprehensive approach.
This is a very lucrative business. In that context, I was quite bemused to read Simon Carswell reporting in The Irish Times that "a US congressman has written again to the Irish Ambassador in Washington urging the Government to scrap plans to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes". It seems that the congressman in question is arguing that this legislation will restrict "the intellectual property of legal products". Given that he represents the state of Virginia, which is home to the world’s second largest tobacco company, which employs approximately 4,000 people in Virginia, I suggest that he has a vested interest in writing this letter. While I am totally in favour of strategies that will lead to a decrease in the number of smokers, I am somewhat dubious or sceptical about the claim that plain packaging will lead to a real reduction in the number of smokers in the absence of other strategies to bring about the tobacco-free Ireland that the Minister is supporting and that I would certainly also like to see.
Australia is often lauded as a success story even though there are conflicting reports about the effect of plain packaging there. It depends on who one believes. According to one source, the number of calls to the Australian quit line increased by 78% after the introduction of standardised packaging. That source did not confirm how many of those people actually succeeded in giving up cigarettes. Furthermore, I understand that the calls in question were made in the months of January and February, which is a traditional time of the year for people to try to give up smoking. According to an alternative source, in the first year after the introduction of plain packaging Australia, some 59 million more cigarettes and roll-you-own products were purchased by comparison with the previous year. What is the truth? There is a need for reliable data that is provided independent of all the lobbies.
I recently tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister, Deputy Reilly, seeking evidence of international best practice in this area. His reply referred to "the wealth of evidence available" in this regard and mentioned an international expert, Professor David Hammond. The Minister pointed out that "research has been conducted in 10 different countries", leading to the view that "tobacco packaging is a critically important form of tobacco promotion". He argued there is "strong evidence that standardised packaging would be effective with regard to four of Ireland's tobacco control policy objectives, namely preventing children and young people from starting to smoke, encouraging current smokers to quit, reducing the risk of those who have quit from relapsing, and encouraging the denormalisation of smoking in society, thereby protecting children from the marketing practices of the tobacco industry". He also referred to other research, such as Moodie's review and Sir Cyril Chantler's independent review, which found that "branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption". The Minister acknowledged in his answer that "a year on from the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, we have a limited amount of research on the effects of the policy". I think this is borne out by what I said earlier.
An issue that must be addressed in the context of these provisions is one I regularly encounter in parts of the constituency I represent, namely, the illicit or black market trade in cigarettes. There are genuine concerns in this regard on the part of small retailers, with some of whom I have spoken. These retailers have been to the fore in supporting other initiatives to help people to stop smoking, such as the ban on the sale of packs of ten or smaller quantities and the prohibitions regarding the display of tobacco products in retail premises. Many of the retailers to whom I have spoken tell me they would support a complete ban on cigarettes but, in the absence of such a measure, they are concerned that the plain packaging initiative will lead to an even larger black market in tobacco, which will have devastating effects on their businesses and their ability to retain and create jobs. A recent seizure by the Garda of illegal tobacco comprised 32 million cigarettes and 4,000 kg of tobacco. There have been reports recently from Britain of foreign crime gangs operating a multi-million pound racket which is flooding that country with illegal cigarettes. There is a more significant problem with such products because nobody knows what it is in them. At least we know what branded cigarettes contain.
If we are serious about safeguarding people's health and encouraging them to give up smoking or refrain from starting in the first place, we cannot be dismissive of the concerns around the illicit trade in tobacco. The retailers I have engaged with find it offensive that their questioning of these proposals is equated with an attempted defence of the tobacco industry. They emphasise that their concern is to protect their own business interests and that so long as the product remains legal, they expect to be recognised as responsible retailers who are competing with a criminal underworld. These retailers, who have willingly complied with Government policy on underage smoking, have genuine concerns that plain packaging will create opportunities for smugglers and counterfeit traders who are unconcerned about whether the person who purchases the product is under age and have no qualms about selling cigarettes in quantities of ten, five or even fewer. Certainly, I have not been convinced by the arguments that plain packaging will not make it easier for counterfeiters.
Retailers have offered several useful suggestions for combating tobacco smuggling, such as the provision of additional mobile scanners at ports, only two of which are in operation at present. They have also called for increased penalties under the Casual Trading Act and the development of an app to enable consumers to verify that tobacco products are legitimate. Such measures would be of great assistance to gardaí in their efforts to combat the illicit trade in tobacco.
I listened to a debate this morning on the radio on electronic cigarettes in which Professor Luke Clancy was a participant. I know people who have had success in switching from cigarettes to electronic devices. However, I am not sure we know enough about those devices to be able to say whether they are a safe and effective alternative to tobacco. I simply do not know whether that is the case. Having said that, if people are finding them a useful aid to giving up smoking, consideration should be given to ensuring their availability outside regular retail hours.
Retailers have called for a regulatory impact assessment to be presented alongside the Bill which would address the issues they have raised. As it stands, they have reasonable concerns about the unintended consequences for their business, the broader economy and smokers. We know this Bill will be passed by the House. I support all efforts to curb, curtail and eliminate smoking, but concerns regarding the potential for an increased black market trade in tobacco are genuine. In that context, I ask the Minister to consider undertaking a serious independent analysis, one year after the enactment of the legislation, to determine its impact on the illicit trade in tobacco.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and will be taking a different view from the majority of Members. Mine is a dissenting voice on this legislation, which will help to ensure a proper debate based on the facts and the reality for many people, particularly smokers. I must declare a special or vested interest in that I am a smoker or, in other words, a person who is addicted to cigarettes. The overriding question for me in considering this legislation is whether its provisions will encourage me or the 25% of the population who are smokers to give up tobacco or smoke less. It is not politically correct to take the position I am taking, but it is important to have dissenting voices on this issue and challenge the cosy consensus that exists around it.
I totally accept that smoking is not good for one's health, but nor is excessive eating or binge drinking. However, it seems always to be smokers who get hammered, notwithstanding the €1.2 billion in taxes we contribute to the Exchequer each year. That is a lot of money and it helps to run a lot of services. My philosophy in life is moderation, whether in regard to alcohol, cigarettes or food. Unfortunately, decisions in these matters are being made by the nanny state brigade, with the rest of us expected to toe the line. The superior attitude displayed by some of these people gets up my nose, with their constant lecturing and talking down to people who happen to have an addiction that is harming nobody but themselves. It is time to get real and bring some common sense into this debate.
It is important, too, that we have an honest debate, to which end I intend to point out some of the dishonest statements I have heard in recent weeks. I fully accept that smoking is bad for one's health. I try every day to give up, but bullying, marginalising and hectoring will never work with me. We have seen the disgraceful treatment of people who are using electronic cigarettes as a way of overcoming their addiction. CIE, for example, reacted to a couple of cranks by imposing a total ban on the use of these devices on trains and buses. In Leinster House efforts are being made to ban their use in the private and public bars. That is not a good thing. On the day that a company has announced the creation of 80 new jobs in the manufacture of electronic devices, surely it is time to introduce some element of common sense into our consideration of these matters. I am asking the Government to wise up, cop on and take on board dissenting voices like mine.
I take this opportunity to challenge some of the organisations that have put misleading information into the public domain. For example, the Irish Cancer Society recently stated that the annual cost of smoking to the health budget is €2 billion. However, the Chief Medical Officer gave evidence to the health committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Jerry Buttimer, in December 2013 that the cost is €664 million. I asked the Minister in a parliamentary question yesterday whether there is a need for the Chief Medical Officer to correct his evidence in light of this discrepancy. The response explained that the Chief Medical Officer based his evidence on a report by the Directorate General for Health and Consumers on liability and the health costs of smoking across all EU member states. The report showed that for Ireland, health expenditure on smoking diseases is €498 million, productivity losses due to absenteeism amount to €15 million, and long-term incapacity caused by smoking costs €151 million. These figures give a total of €664 million and show there is no requirement to correct the parliamentary record. In other words, one group has already been caught out in giving false and misleading information. To reiterate, I am not arguing that smoking is good for one's health but that we should have honest presentation of the facts.
Turning to the legislation, these provisions will have far-reaching implications for retailers and in their impact on jobs, cigarette smuggling and the infringement of intellectual property rights. We are being asked to support the Bill in the absence of information regarding the regulatory impact assessment that was conducted last February.
In effect, Deputies do not know what the cost benefit and the impact of this Bill will be or if the tobacco companies sought compensation in their submissions. This information should be made available to Deputies so they know for what they are voting. Regardless of one's personal attitude to cigarettes and tobacco products, the Minister will agree that they are serious issues for all Members of the Oireachtas.
Additionally, the Minister should be asked if the Attorney General has reviewed this Bill and whether she has any outstanding concerns about its integrity and if she is confident it will withstand legal challenge. We have had a financial crisis and we need money but a case like this could cost taxpayers more money. The Minister and the Government should wake up and smell the coffee and not squander any more taxpayers' money as they have done. We need every cent for our health and disability services and I do not want to see a legal challenge where the State is caught for hundreds of millions of euro.
Let us look at the other facts when it comes to dealing with the packaging issue. It will make counterfeiting easier. By removing branding, smokers will definitely gravitate towards the cheapest products, increasing the amount they smoke. That is something at which the Minister should look. Smoking initiation and ongoing consumption are driven by factors unrelated to packaging. That is the reality. There is no evidence in the form of randomised control trials that proves standardised packaging reduces smoking uptake. That is something at which the Minister should also look. Again, I emphasise that I am giving a different view on these issues.
It is a pity the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, is not here. The Government did not proceed with abolishing upward only rent reviews as it would have required the payment of compensation to landlords whose rights were infringed. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, said on 10 June 2014 that the Government did not want the taxpayers to pick up that bill. What is the connection here? The connection is that we could find ourselves in a situation where there could be a legal challenge costing hundreds of millions of euro. As this plain packaging legislation proposes to deprive tobacco companies of their rights, the same principle applies here.
As many Deputies know, tobacco companies made this point in their submissions to the Department of Health's regulatory impact analysis, which remains unpublished. The Minister is inviting the Dáil to vote for a pig in a poke as long as the regulatory impact analysis conducted on this Bill remains unpublished.
I am warning people that they must be vigilant. The Law Society is concerned about this legislation and yet where has one heard this? The political nanny state brigade have not raised this issue. Irish law protects creative ideas, inventions, designs and music by creating intellectual property rights in respect of them. Intellectual property rights are protected. Under Irish law the right to a trademark is governed by the Trademarks Act 1996. Ireland is a signatory to a number of international agreements, the aim of which is to protect intellectual property rights.
A number of stakeholders, including the Law Society, have raised concerns about the potential negative impact standardised packaging may have on intellectual property rights, that is, the trademarks of tobacco companies and, consequently, on Ireland's international and commercial reputation. That is the Law Society talking and not Deputy Finian McGrath.
I have put forward alternative views in this debate and I would like the Minister to listen to them. If one is bringing in legislation, it should be well thought out because it could end up costing this State. One also has a duty to provide all the information and all the facts to the citizens of this State who deserve truth, honesty and above all not to be caught again and stung in their pockets.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014. I compliment the Minister on bringing this measure forward and confirm my support for the legislation. It is important to remember some key facts and figures in regard to smoking and the effect of smoking on the health of individuals and the public generally.
Smoking kills one in every two users. Tobacco smoke contains approximately 4,000 different chemicals, more than 70 of which could cause cancer. Each year, at least 5,200 people die from tobacco-related diseases. Some 78% of Irish people start to smoke before they reach the age of 18 and 53% before they reach the age of 15. Smokers lose on average between ten and 15 years from their life expectancy and smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and death in Ireland.
Approximately 1,700 people die from lung cancer each year and more than 90% of lung cancers are caused by smoking. Approximately 1,500 people die annually from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more than 90% of these are smokers or ex-smokers. One quarter of the deaths from coronary heart disease and 11% of stroke-related deaths are attributable to smoking. It is estimated that the workplace ban on smoking introduced in 2004 has resulted in more than 3,500 deaths being avoided as a result of tobacco consumption.
There is no doubt in my mind that any measures which can be brought forward - obviously, there must be a suite of measures - to deal with tobacco and smoking and to help public health policy are welcome. Smoking is a major cause of preventable death in Ireland and the control and regulation of tobacco products and tobacco use is a key public health policy objective. The proposals in this Bill are part of a range of measures designed to tackle tobacco consumption.
Plain packaging has been dealt with in some other jurisdictions, although not many. Australia was the first to do so and it is being considered in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The position in regard to smoking and plain packaging has been dealt with by the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the various organisations put their views forward to that committee, including the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation. From studies done by the organisations in 2013, it is clear that plain packaging will help to stop young people taking up the habit. The tobacco companies need an additional 50 smokers per day to continue in business. These smokers are generally from the younger age group. In Ireland, more young people smoke and take up smoking than in any other European country.
Mr. Chris Macey from the Irish Heart Foundation said at the committee hearings that plain packaging would turn the concept of peer pressure on its head, making young people fear judgment and shame from their peers. The committee also heard evidence from other stakeholders, including Dr. Ross Morgan, the chairperson of ASH Ireland. He highlighted the fact that young people are the primary targets of marketing by the tobacco industry.
The legislation is appropriate and timely. I welcome it as a part of a range of measures to prevent smoking and help public health policy and the health of individuals in this country. There are difficulties with illegal and black market cigarettes but they will be dealt with by other agencies. I welcome the Bill and confirm my support for it.
The next speaker is Deputy Olivia Mitchell. I believe she is sharing time.
You are wrong, Acting Chairman.
I apologise if the schedule is wrong.
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I should be next but I will allow Deputy Mitchell to go first. I have half an hour.
If Deputy Buttimer is sure about that, I thank him.
You were incorrect in what you said, Acting Chairman.
I apologise. I am just working off the information in front of me on the screen. I am sorry about that. I call Deputy Mitchell. Is she sharing time?
I am not aware of that but I know I have ten minutes.
Deputy McLoughlin has ten minutes also. Is that agreed?
That is agreed. I fully support efforts by the Minister in particular to stamp out smoking. Unlike others, I accept the evidence that smoking really does kill and before it kills one, it makes one very unhealthy and it greatly reduces one's quality of life. I also accept that advertising works and that few are more skilled at advertising than the cigarette manufacturers and wholesalers. I support all measures that have been taken to date to deter smoking but I must confess I have a problem with accepting how changing packaging will affect either the number of those already smoking or how it will reduce smoking among young people, which is the target of the legislation. It is hoped by making the packet less appealing that somehow it will make smoking less appealing. We are talking about a packet that already contains a death threat and it is difficult to see how it could become more threatening or less attractive than is the case already.
I am concerned about minimalist packaging in the sense that it might be considered more attractive. My evidence for that is when one looks at the more expensive shops, they always have more minimalist and plainer packaging and bags for their products. My main concern is that since packaging can no longer be seen, given that cigarettes are no longer on display – I do not know when I last saw a cigarette packet – the only people who come into contact with cigarette packets are people who smoke already. While the legislation is aimed at young people, the reality is that one does not come into contact with a cigarette packet until one is already a smoker.
Research has shown mixed results on the outcomes of plain packaging. I have spoken to a number of smokers who scoffed at the notion that they would be in any way deterred from smoking by a change in the packet in which cigarettes come. As most people probably know, I am a former very heavy smoker. No smoker will be deterred by the sort of packaging in which cigarettes come. If they were wrapped in a dirty rag, not alone would a smoker smoke them but the tragedy is that he or she would grow to love the dirty rag, such is the nature of addiction. That is what it means to be addicted. I am not an expert in behavioural analysis and it is long time since I smoked but from experience I can say that the smoking of the cigarette is far more likely to influence one’s perception of the packet it came in than the packet is to influence one’s attitude towards the cigarette itself. That is really why heroin addicts use dirty needles and employ desperate measures in order to get their fix. That is also why methadone users turn up every day to get methadone. It does not matter a hoot to them whether it is in a bottle or a packet. They will still turn up because of their addiction. Packaging just does not figure when it comes to addiction.
If, as I suggest, young people do not come into contact with a packet until they are smokers, it begs the question of what does trigger the decision to start smoking, given that we have zero advertising of cigarettes and very few examples of people smoking on television or in movies. The only visual enticement to smoking comes from observing either family members or their peers. In the case of girls, the desire to control their weight is a major factor in starting to smoke and in continuing to smoke. Much research has been done to identify the causes of addiction in general. In spite of the efforts made to investigate why people take heroin or to examine drug addiction generally, the truth is that it is still an unsolved mystery. I do not know any smoker who does not want to give up smoking. Every single smoker wants to give up smoking. No person acting rationally wants to indulge in a habit which they know will probably kill them and it will certainly do damage to the people around them whom they love, yet in many cases they find it almost impossible to give up smoking. The desire to give up smoking is seldom as great as the urge to have a cigarette.
Much research has taken place on how to break addiction. We must put more resources into the area because we have made so little progress with all the measures we have taken. Worldwide, significant amounts of money are raised on taxes on cigarettes yet it seems to be treated more as a handy way of raising revenue rather than a source of funding for research. There has been talk of increasing the price of cigarettes, even doubling the price of a packet of cigarettes. I would support that if I thought the revenue would go into research, helping addicts and funding diversion activities for young people to keep them away from cigarettes in the first place. However, it is folly if the belief is that increasing the price of cigarettes will somehow stop smokers smoking. One will never price an addict out of the market. It just does not happen as it is not a normal market. All one has to do is look at the market for illicit drugs and the extent to which criminals go, often resorting to violence. Addicts get themselves into appalling circumstances in order to get the money to support their habit.
In the past ten years we have seen a tenfold increase in the price of cigarettes but that has had a negligible effect on the number of people smoking. The inverse relationship between price and the quantity demanded that exists for a normal product simply does not exist when addiction is involved. However, if the price were to increase, as the Minister suggested, I would support that if I though the money went to help addicts and into diversion activities.
Deputy Finian McGrath referred to the debate on e-cigarettes. I do not often agree with him but based on the evidence available to date I would not rush to judgment on e-cigarettes, notwithstanding the fact that they are being promoted by cigarette companies of whom I would be fairly sceptical. To my knowledge they are being used by some people as a crutch on their way to giving up cigarettes. Even if that is not the case and those who use them do not give up cigarettes eventually, there is merit in exposing people only to the lesser substance of nicotine rather than to the toxic cocktail of the conventional cigarette.
However, I realise more research and monitoring is needed on the components of e-cigarettes and their long-term effects. If they are found to be less harmful, we should follow the example of the methadone programme that is applied to drug addicts in terms of harm reduction. It is known that the methadone programme is not ideal and it would be better if people quit drugs altogether but it is infinitely preferable to heroin addiction. Perhaps we should consider this when comparing the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Cigarettes are expensive, there is a death threat on every packet and it is unattractive and uncomfortable to smoke in public. Cigarette smoking is a social no-no, users are regarded as social miscreants and nobody over the age of three is unaware of the fact that smoking kills. Despite all this, people continue to smoke. Many measures have been taken against smoking but they have had only a marginal impact on the number of smokers.
The Minister has made a priority of deterring young people from taking up smoking and he is right to do so because this approach has a greater likelihood of success than stopping existing smokers. Physical activity is spoken of as a useful tool in diverting people away from smoking but it must be made as accessible, attractive and beguiling as a cigarette. Physical activity can give a rush but much lip-service is paid to it and many schools around the country do not have the right facilities. Not enough attention is paid to young girls because many sports are on offer but they are competitive and require large teams to play. We must change our understanding of sport to include physical activities like yoga, dance and running to get young people involved. We cannot simply depend on the GAA to come into schools and set up teams as this will only work for some young people, though it is very important.
I am not optimistic about the deterrent effect of changing cigarette packaging but I support the Minister's efforts. Even if only a few people are persuaded to avoid smoking, his efforts will have been worthwhile. I know the Minister feels very strongly about this issue and is committed to limiting the damage and death toll caused by smoking.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which without doubt will have a long-lasting positive impact on many families across Ireland. The prime aim of the Bill is to protect our young people and future generations from addiction to tobacco products by taking yet another step and making tobacco products look less attractive to consumers, especially children and young adults.
The dangers of tobacco smoking are proven and well documented. Every adult knows, or should know, about the harmful effects of smoking and yet nearly 22% of the Irish population spends money on tobacco products on a daily basis. According to the Health Service Executive, HSE, smoking rates are highest among young adults from 18 to 34 years of age and they reach 30.7% in the 18 to 24 year old age group. Due to the fact that smoking is highly addictive, the majority of the young people will continue smoking for many more years.
Building on the existing legislation related to the restriction on advertising by tobacco companies and the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, we want to take a further step towards a tobacco-free society. We will show our strong commitment towards a healthy Europe by complying proactively with Directive 2014/40/EU, which set the standard that the nations of European, as a family, will take care of their future generations. By restricting the labelling and packaging of tobacco products we will not only promote a healthy lifestyle, but also considerably cut spending on tobacco related diseases, which amounts to €500 million. This is a long-term strategy of wise savings that will allow for funds to be used in other ways.
Ireland can lead the way by introducing legislation that will deal with the core of this issue, the irresponsible trading of companies that continue to profit from a highly addictive and unhealthy habit. We are also giving a warning and a chance to these highly successful financial entities to divert their trading activities into other profitable areas of investment. We should remind them that it is in their interest that their employees and customers live longer and healthier lives.
Tobacco companies also maintain that they do not target children in their marketing campaigns and that the sole purpose of their advertising is to persuade adult smokers to switch brands. However, the statistical data indicates that children start smoking at a very early age. Does this really have nothing to do with the ways cigarettes are advertised? Bearing in mind that today's teenager is tomorrow's potential customer, tobacco companies use a variety of tricks in order to promote their product and mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking. Tobacco companies fully exploit the fact that teenagers worldwide follow trends and want to be seen in a certain light. That is why it is less the product that they seek to sell and more an image and lifestyle. They want to persuade teenagers that smoking is fashionable and associated with being independent, rebellious and sophisticated. Colours, box shape and imagery are used to lure children into a smoking trap and create an extremely addictive killer habit. That is why we believe this law will help to reduce the appeal of tobacco products to our children and stop them from taking up smoking in the first place. By breaking the link between the product image and the product itself, we aim to help our citizens decide for themselves and purchase tobacco for what it really is.
This legislation is mainly aimed at protecting the younger generation, especially our children. If the younger generation does not take up smoking, the population of smokers will be limited to an older age group, thus reducing the chain effect of fashionable attitudes spreading in the younger age groups. It has also been proven that smokers are keener to quit if there is a clear and visible health warning and attention is not diverted by colours and images on the packaging.
A breach of the articles of the Bill would have legal consequences ranging from a fine to imprisonment or both. Removal from the national register of tobacco retailers is also included as a punishment to deal with those in commercial enterprises. This legislation will strengthen the role of the HSE by empowering it to enforce the current legislation. I would like to mention the tobacco retailers who we, as legislators, ask to control the sale of tobacco products in Ireland. They are governed by law not to sell tobacco products to people under the age of 16. The House will be aware that retailers have a very small profit margin on what is an expensive product to stock. The product they sell at an average price of €10 is retailed by smugglers on the streets at around €3. This is becoming a real problem and it was brought to my attention by retailers at a seminar in Sligo some months ago. It seems that such illegal products are ever more available on our streets.
It is thought the introduction of plain packaging may allow producers of illegal cigarettes to bring to the market generic cigarettes masquerading as well-known brands. This is a concern that needs to be considered. I know that there are obvious security markings on genuine packages but work will be more difficult for the people involved in detection at the Customs and Excise. I believe that the Government must make a determined effort to counteract cigarette smuggling in Ireland which, in my opinion, is rampant, especially in some Border areas. Some 25% of all cigarettes smoked in Ireland are believed to be illegal. Customs and Excise and the Garda need resources to fight this crime as children will be more enticed to start smoking cigarettes at €3 per packet than at €10 per packet.
I suggest to the Ministers for Health, Justice and Equality and Finance that any further excise increases on tobacco be ring-fenced to fund a special unit within Customs and Excise and the Garda to solely tackle the importation and distribution of illegal tobacco products. There needs to be an intelligence-led strategy with officers seconded to this unit from the Garda and Customs and Excise who will target the importers and distributors. It will cost money but I suggest this funding can be obtained through a levy or tax on cigarettes, rather than directly from the Exchequer.
It is clear from the facts that we are not winning the battle with the smugglers. I believe that a sub-committee of Cabinet should be convened to consider how representatives of Customs and Excise, Revenue, the Garda, and, perhaps, the Naval Service could set up a unit similar to the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. It would need a proper budget and mandate to tackle the crime of tobacco smuggling, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer €450 million per year.
I understand from media reports that a small number of Irish criminals have made millions of euro from smuggling illegal cigarettes into the country. Recent press reports suggest that prominent Irish gangsters are involved in this activity, and that one of the main crime kings from Dublin, who is well known to CAB but is based on Spain's Costa del Sol, has made millions from smuggling illegal cigarettes over the past two decades. Following this legislation, the next step will be to tackle the smugglers. I thank the Seanad for bringing forward the legislation as another stepping stone towards a healthy Irish nation. I fully support the Bill and its consequent enforcement in the country.
If it is in order, I wish to share time with Deputy Willie Penrose.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, it is my privilege to speak in the House on the Bill. As we begin our consideration of the Bill it is worthwhile to put smoking and the problems it causes in context. Today is a momentous day for our public health system and those in charge of it. The smoking rates in Ireland, as of December 2013, were that 21.5% more men smoked than women; the age group with the highest percentage of smokers was young adults aged between 18 and 34 at 30.7%; and smoking was lowest among those aged 65 and over, at 9.7%. While there was little variation in regional trends, there were significant variations between socio-economic groups, with farmers and groups with higher levels of education least likely to smoke.
In yesterday's Irish Examiner it was reported that more than one fifth of young people were considered as current smokers in 1998, compared to 11.9% in 2010. This shows a welcome reduction of approximately 50% in the past 15 years. If this trend was to continue, Ireland would be a smoke free country by 2025, the date set by the Minister's tobacco free Ireland initiative.
What are the effects of the decision of this 21.5% of the population who smoke? Smokers lose an average of ten to 15 years from their life expectancy. As other speakers have stated, each year at least 5,200 people die in Ireland from tobacco-related diseases, which is 100 people each week and 14 people each day.
Before I continue I would like to put briefly the tobacco industry in a financial context. The tobacco industry generates approximately €1.4 billion in tax revenue for the State each year and creates considerable employment, but the effect of this product costs the State approximately €1 billion in caring for the adverse effects of smoking in our public health system. In pure financial terms, the State makes a profit of approximately €400 million from tobacco but the cost to society must be kept to the forefront, which is that every year 5,200 of our family and friends die. We would all agree that saving these lives is worth forgoing any revenue that may accrue to the State. Those who died from cancer would have liked to have been able to kick the habit and their families would certainly like to have their loved ones back and would agree with us.
Smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and death in Ireland, and thankfully we can take effective steps to reduce smoking. The Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013 is one part of a suite of past and future measures designed to tackle tobacco consumption and the harm caused by smoking in Ireland. The Bill builds upon previous successful measures, including the introduction of the workplace smoking ban in 2004; the introduction of graphic warnings on cigarette packets in 2013; and the publication of Healthy Ireland - A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025.
In October 2013, the Minister for Health launched the Government's latest tobacco control policy document, Tobacco Free Ireland. The overall aim of the policy is to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use, ultimately achieving a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025. While the Minister for Health accepts this is an extraordinary challenge, he has stated in the House that if we work together to denormalise smoking, we can do it. This is a challenge that all of society should embrace and support.
Tobacco Free Ireland has 60 recommendations and measures designed to assist key stakeholders, including the Government, in reaching its target. The main recommendations are the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products; banning the sale of tobacco products from mobile units and containers; making nicotine replacement therapy more widely available; monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of smoke-free legislation; developing national smoking cessation guidelines; enhancing educational initiatives, particularly those aimed at preventing young people from starting to smoke; and legislating to prohibit smoking in cars where children are present. In this regard, the Minister for Health has indicated his support for the Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. Other targets we must consider include an increase in excise duty on tobacco products to be applied over a continuous five year period; the introduction of a tobacco industry levy, which would be ring-fenced to fund health promotion and tobacco control initiatives, such as ending the illicit trade in tobacco products, as Deputy McLoughlin highlighted; and collaboration between North and South.
In November 2013, the Government approved and published the general scheme of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013 and sent it to the Joint Committee on Health and Children. As part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process, the joint committee considered and reviewed the general scheme and submitted a report to the Minister. This Bill has often been incorrectly referred to as being about plain packaging, but it is not; it is about is making it mandatory for tobacco to be sold in standardised packaging, which will greatly increase the health warnings and reduce the ability of tobacco manufacturers to promote their brand.
The purpose of the pre-legislative scrutiny process was to facilitate consultation with key stakeholders before the Bill was finalised and presented to the House for consideration as part of the formal legislative process. In organising its work, the committee was first briefed on the general scheme by the Minister for Health and the Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Tony Holohan, at a meeting on 5 December 2013. The joint committee invited written submissions from interested groups and individuals on the general scheme and held a series of meetings with key stakeholders and experts, including those involved in the tobacco industry. All committee members appreciated the opportunity to be involved in contributing to this critical legislation. The pre-legislative scrutiny process allowed committee members to be fully informed about the issues involved and enabled all members to provide meaningful input into the legislation and make observations and suggestions before finalisation of the Bill.
During January the committee sought written submissions on the Bill and began a series of consultative hearings which took place in January and February. This was an opportunity for us to hear at first hand from interested groups and stakeholders with regard to contributing to the drafting of the legislation. As part of the wider consultation process, the committee held public hearings with various interest groups and stakeholders to obtain in a meaningful way their input and views. I hope our intensive scrutiny, which culminated in a two-volume tome of a report, assisted the Minister, the Department and the Government in their further consideration and formulation of the legislation.
In our hearings, the committee met representatives of the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the National Tobacco Control Office. We also heard from health advocacy bodies, charities and youth organisations. We also engaged with retail organisations to hear their views on the Bill and on how the changes might affect their businesses. They raised many interesting and thought-provoking points. During our final day of hearings we engaged directly with the tobacco industry and a smokers' lobby group. The committee decided to meet a wide variety of groups with different perspective on the Bill so we could accurately reflected the points made throughout society. Many committee members had misgivings about direct engagement with the tobacco industry, but as a group we took the decision that it was better to engage with its representatives in an open forum, in a setting where we could listen to their views and challenge them if necessary, rather than to allow our work and the Bill be criticised for a lack of engagement. The result of this wide-ranging engagement is that every party has been listened to, and all concerns have been raised and considered.
Tobacco packaging has been described as the last billboard for the tobacco industry, and the legislation will force the industry to show with greater clarity the devastating effects of smoking on the health of citizens.
Committee members have seen for themselves the packets of various shapes, sizes and colours used by tobacco companies to attract young people to take up smoking. Standardised packaging with much larger health warnings will act as a deterrent.
Every year, 5,200 Irish people die from smoking-related illnesses and diseases. Protecting our children and young people from taking up smoking is a key policy for the Minister for Health and of all of us in this House irrespective of our party affiliation or none. There is a wealth of international evidence on the effects of tobacco packaging in general and on perceptions and reactions to standardised packaging which support the introduction of this measure.
I wish to put on the record of the House the conclusions and recommendations from the committee's work. Our recommendations are wide-ranging, including some that go beyond the scope of the Bill and look at wider policy on reducing tobacco consumption, which hopefully can be incorporated with further initiatives to move towards a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025. The recommendations are clear and cogent. The recommendations and measures set out in Tobacco Free Ireland should be implemented as soon as possible, including the ban on smoking in cars where children are present; prohibiting the sale of tobacco products from mobile units and containers at fairs and markets; and making nicotine replacement therapies more widely available, including in retail outlets where tobacco products are sold. These measures should be given prominence because of their importance.
It is important that the proposed legislation specifically sets out that its provisions will come within the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the revised EU tobacco products directive. The rise in the number of calls to the Quitline in Australia could be viewed as evidence that the inclusion of a quit-line number on tobacco packaging in Ireland could be another essential way of encouraging smokers to start thinking about quitting. The Irish Cancer Society strongly recommends the inclusion of a quit-line number in the legislation. The Department, in conjunction with other key stakeholders, should monitor and review the effectiveness of standardised packaging on the prevalence of smoking and the scale of the illicit tobacco market in Ireland.
Consideration should be given to providing a lead-in period of at least 12 months to allow retailers and tobacco manufacturers time to comply with the law, which is a necessary and reasonable timeframe. Consideration should also be given to decreasing the level of duty-free allowance in respect of tobacco products in general. We note 6% of cigarettes are purchased abroad and brought back into Ireland legitimately for personal use. Alternatively, we believe that consideration should be given to decreasing the level of duty-free allowance in respect of non-compliant tobacco products.
The proposed legislation should include provisions to provide for: the standardisation of the size of tobacco packaging; the inner packaging of tobacco products to be the same colour as the outside surface; a separate and distinct definition for brand, company and business name so as to prevent tobacco manufacturers from promoting brand variants to the status of brands; and the maximum length and number of characters in brand and variant names. We also believe that consideration should be given to permitting a small distinguishing mark, for example a colour code, being applied to the bottom surfaces of cigarette packs so as to reduce the risk of consumers being sold the wrong product.
The committee took the view that consideration should be given to an amendment similar to the one introduced by the Australian Government to address a technical manufacturing issue - that is the use of round corners on the inside lip of cigarette packs. Information messages which set out the ingredients and emissions of tobacco products, similar to those used in Australia, should be required on at least one side of tobacco packaging.
In its deliberations the committee also formed the view that the proposed legislation should prohibit the use of brand and variant names appearing on individual cigarette sticks, but allow manufacturers to use an alphanumeric code instead. Consideration should be given to expanding the enforcement powers of authorised officers under the proposed legislation to include the seizure, removal and detention of non-conforming products. We also believe consideration should also be given to providing that the offender pay the costs associated with the seizure, removal and detention of non-conforming products including the cost of their destruction. The legislation should also include an offence for the possession by retailers of non-conforming tobacco products.
The committee also took the view that the primary sanction upon conviction would be the suspension, and in the case of repeat offences, the loss of the privilege to sell tobacco products. The proposed legislation should provide a wider range of penalties to include official warnings, cautions and on-the-spot fines. We also looked at introducing a ban on proxy purchasing as a matter of urgency.
The Department of Health should assess with the Department of Finance the potential impact that raising excise duties would have on the sale of illicit tobacco products. More investment should be made in educational programmes and youth projects designed to raise awareness around smoking to complement other strategies designed to prevent young people from starting to smoke. In addition, more investment should be made in cessation and quit programmes so as to give the four out of five people who want to quit smoking the necessary aids and supports to do so.
We also looked at the way that we should help to incentivise retailers to become tobacco-free zones. Consideration should be given to the introduction of a "polluter pays" type levy on tobacco manufacturers to be used to offset the health-care costs associated with tobacco use. The introduction of mandatory opening and trading hours for tobacco products should be considered by not selling them during or after a certain time, for example, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
We also took the view that prohibiting the sale of cigarettes in licensed premises might be considered. The regulation of e-cigarettes should be given consideration. A freefone complaints line and e-mail address to encourage compliance should also be established.
I want to put on record my appreciation, and that of my colleagues on the committee, of the many different interest groups who made both oral and written submissions to the joint committee in its preparation of our report. I acknowledge the contribution of Ms Monica Boyle from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for her assistance with this body of work, the clerk to the committee and the staff of the committee secretariat. As everyone in this House knows, the committee's work is only as good as the service it gets from the staff. We are very fortunate to have very good staff working on our committee secretariat, for which I thank them.
The control and regulation of tobacco products and tobacco use is a key public health policy objective in our country. We have a successful record in implementing many legislative and policy initiatives that have helped to reduce the incidence of smoking. Internationally, Ireland is regarded as one of the leaders in this area of public policy. The Tobacco Control Scale 2010 in Europe ranks Ireland second out of 31 European countries in terms of tobacco control. I hope that the work of the committee was of assistance in bringing about this Bill which proposes to introduce standardised packaging for all tobacco products and also determine the size and position of health warnings on cigarette packets.
I commend the Minister and ask him to continue to lead on this issue. When this Bill has been passed, I hope he will take the other recommendations in the committee's report as the basis for the next policy step in our efforts to continue to reduce the rate of smoking in Ireland.
The saving of 5,200 lives is of paramount importance to all of us. I take issue with Deputy Finian McGrath's comments that we are becoming a nanny state. It is about the preservation of life and the elimination of a cancer-generating product which affects the lives of our people and the country's overall public health. I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank my colleague for allowing me the time to speak. I welcome the Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill and compliment the Minister on introducing it. I also compliment the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children following the consultations outlined so eloquently by that committee's Chairman, Deputy Buttimer. Everybody got a chance to make an input, which is important.
Notwithstanding that I am a non-smoker and a non-drinker, I understand that people have a different view on matters and in a democracy every view is entitled to get ventilated and articulated. As a non-smoker and a pioneer, if somebody told me that I had to take up one or the other, I think I would rather have a few pints than smoke. I am vehemently opposed to smoking because of its impact on people's health although I recognise that people are entitled choose to do things. As Deputy Buttimer has outlined, we are all fully aware that 100 people die each week, which is 14 to 15 people each day, from diseases, including cancer, caused by smoking. Many young people are lured or enticed into the smoking habit at a very young age - many below the age of 16.
Many small retailers act very responsibly. They have spent €500 to €1,000 in putting up special cases in order to have cigarettes concealed and not them have on display and impacting on people. Many small retailers and shops across the country take the responsibility very seriously by asking for the age of people and ignoring the usual excuses of getting cigarettes for parents or an older brother. However, we should distinguish between them. Many of them are concerned and I know of many shopkeepers in Westmeath who are concerned. They are aware that the introduction of plain packaging will affect them in ways.
Their concern is it will increase illegal trade by making counterfeit products easier to make, distribute and sell and note that innovative packs, such as bevelled-edged or slide packs, are rarely copied. This is a real concern and every effort must be made to counteract this and, as Deputy McLoughlin stated, to ensure this illegal or illicit trade does not boom and take off in the context of what Members are trying to do. It will lead to down-trading and where price becomes more important as a product differentiator, margins will suffer, which of course probably will have a downstream impact on employment. Members also should be aware of all these factors and notwithstanding that I am in favour of the Bill, it is important to put the counter side of the argument.
I reiterate that I am completely in favour of any measures to reduce tobacco or cigarette smoking. The achievement of the objective the Minister has set out of a tobacco-free Ireland will play an important role in the health of future generations and of the country in general, as well as having an impact on health expenditure. However, to do this, a considerable suite of ancillary measures will be needed to accompany this plain packaging initiative. I acknowledge it is wider than that but to achieve this important public health policy priority, the areas that must be addressed include the illicit or black-market trade in cigarettes. It is this aspect of the market that exercises the minds of the small retailers who already play a positive role in helping to control the distribution and sale of cigarettes. As I stated, they have spent thousands of euro in installing cigarette machines and ensuring they are concealed and not visible and are not openly or flagrantly displaying or advocating cigarette sales. Responsible retailers are trying to compete with the illegal markets. They are paying taxes and everything else and therefore are at the very butt end of this. They are complying in full in respect of the under-age policy and in respect of young people. In particular, they make sure they are not selling cigarettes to children under 16 and in my view, the plain packaging of cigarettes will not contribute a single iota in this area as far as young people are concerned.
There must be an analysis of the impact of this Bill upon the trade and I agree with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who also advocated that this course of action be reviewed in 12 months to ascertain how things are going. The Minister's main objective is to prevent children from smoking, to break that cycle and to intervene at an early age, which is extremely important and with which I certainly concur. However, Members must wait for credible evidence to be produced that will sustain the argument that plain packaging will deliver such a reduction in smoking. I understand that Australia, which is the country cited as being the most advanced in this regard, is due to publish an impact study in December 2014. It would be interesting to learn what emanates from that study, given that country is at the vanguard of this policy, to inform and underpin the objectives of the Bill. Moreover, by the time this Bill reaches the Statute Book and subject to the various evaluations and assessments, this regulatory evaluation in Australia due in December 2014 probably will be available. It might serve to inform Members to enable them to make the Bill's impact even stronger.
The most important issue now is to make smoking unattractive to young people. I know many young people, as well as many older people, who have tried to break the cycle. It seems impossible and I have lots of experience in that I have been described as a food addict. I was, it took me a long time to break that and I know what it is like. It is not easy and I would not lecture anybody. One must give people every help and every encouragement to so do. Were I Minister for Finance, I certainly would use the taxation system. I know doing so will not break that system because I remember the old days when the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes was increased by a thruppenny bit or a tanner. Everyone then would say they would down tools and the same would apply to an increase in the price of a pint. However, the reason that successive Ministers for Finance always increased taxes on those items is they are discretionary and it is easy. I note Deputy Matthews is in the Chamber and he would be aware the cost of these items used to feed into the consumer price index but they were removed from the basket of goods. Ultimately, however, the increase was only a weekly deterrent, in that by the second week, it all was forgotten about. As for the change, the price at that time was £1 1s. 11d., and the old penny was left on the counter. People did not even pick it up, which meant the Minister could even have increased the price by another penny. That is the theory of taxation but were I Minister for Finance, this is an area on which I certainly would focus. The smokers out there should be glad I am not Minister for Finance because I would be very strong in this regard, as I believe it would be a help. However, one cannot put the money that would be gained in the way I advocate into the greedy Exchequer Central Fund. Instead, I would put it into a fund for health promotion and for major projects that could divert young people in areas in which such projects are needed. It is very important to give people alternatives in sport and in health and leisure pursuits and I note the capital sports grants were announced today. There were grants of €40,000 or €50,000 and my own club received €45,000. It would have taken us five years to raise that amount in the small village of Ballynacargy. Consequently, it would be a help to be able to get money from the Central Fund.
Funnily enough, I come from a family whose members were non-smokers but I have neighbours in whose families everyone smoked. Sometimes, that just happens. However, there are huge costs associated with health-related issues arising from tobacco. It costs up to €1 billion per year, not to mention the deaths that arise from cancer that is triggered by or derived from smoking. I also would ban smoking in cars when children are present. Anyone who has travelled with me over the years would know that one could do what one liked in the car but smoking was a no-no. Perhaps I was known as a cantankerous fellow down through the years because of it but that was what I did.
To give some element of balance to this debate, I note some people suggest that adverse consequences will arise as a result. First, the provisions of the Bill will apply to only three quarters of the tobacco market in Ireland, as approximately 24% of the tobacco smoked in Ireland is either purchased in the black market or overseas. This is the reason there must be a whole-of-Government approach in this regard. Indeed, the Revenue Commissioners do not measure rolling tobacco in their calculations, which means the aforementioned 24% should be even greater, which is an important point. There is an argument that the introduction of standardised packaging will flood the Irish market with cheap illegal tobacco products, which then would benefit organised criminality and would make it easier and cheaper to produce counterfeit standardised tobacco packaging and so on. However, I imagine that all these things could be overcome.
The major issue that I have concerns patents and trademarking. If Ireland introduces standardised packaging but it is not applied across the European Union, an incongruity would then arise. The measure would not apply to Irish smokers who chose to purchase their tobacco products in other European Union member states. This is where I foresee an issue arising. Irish consumers who wish to continue to purchase a legal branded product can continue to do so in another jurisdiction at a price discount, because they will encounter lower tax rates there than they would in respect of a tobacco product bought in Ireland. This will be an interesting point. However, the issue I foresee as a barrister is the impact of this measure on intellectual property rights and the possibility or rather the probability, that the Irish State or Government will face action, perhaps at European Union or international level. Members should be honest about this because that is what will happen.
More briefs for Deputy Penrose.
I do not ever get any of those funds.
However, there are the property rights established under Bunreacht na hÉireann, as well as right to the free movement and travel of goods under Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The types of issues that will arise in respect of European law will be whether these measures are necessary to achieve the objective being pursued or whether they are disproportionate. In addition, I refer to the fundamental human rights guaranteed in Articles 11, 16 and 17 of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights of the European Union, as well as the Irish and European Union trademark law, which I believe was updated in 1996. There also will be issues in respect of the World Trade Organization.
I wish to put on record a counter-argument that has been provided to me, which is that the illicit trade has increased in Australia since the introduction of standardised packaging, according to a report prepared by KPMG on illicit tobacco in Australia from October 2013. The argument is the Irish market would be flooded with cheap illegal products, due to the well-established smuggling networks that already are in operation. This would reduce the VAT and excise duty income to the Irish Exchequer without any reduction in the incidence of smoking. While such arguments exist, overall, if one takes it all in the round and having put out those arguments because as a barrister, one must argue the pros and cons, I am strongly in the pro-camp with regard to what the Minister is doing. However, the legal advice would be important. I have no doubt but that this legislation will be subject to judicial pronouncement at national level, at European Union level or even at world trade level in a global forum.
I would make for a difficult Minister for Finance because I would spend an hour in this Chamber on budget night explaining the reasons I had increased the price of cigarettes by 30% or 40%.
It is incredible that the House is debating the issue of deglamorising of one of the most deadly products on the planet. Tobacco smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in Ireland and the percentage of smokers in the population remains high, at 22%. After many decades of lying and deceit by the tobacco companies, we know their product leads to a deadly habit. Many of us who have fallen victim to tobacco smoking in the past can testify to this.
A previous speaker from the Fine Gael Party argued that the proposal would only influence other smokers. That is incorrect as anybody who has smoked will know that the branding and appearance of tobacco products add to their allure and attraction. It is possible to judge social class by the brand of cigarette a person smokes. Those who want to be cool and youthful will smoke Marlboro Lights, while those who want to display status will smoke other cigarette brands. The suggestion that branding and packaging are unrelated to the attractiveness of cigarettes is untrue.
The Bill will introduce plain packaging to deglamorise smoking for potential new smokers. All the representative organisations in the area of health as well as a large number of non-governmental organisations, including those involved in the cancer area, have called for this measure. The tobacco industry is virtually the only group that is up in arms about the proposal. It is amazing that Philip Morris has challenged the right of governments across the globe to introduce health legislation in this area. When the Taoiseach arrived in the United States to take part in the St. Patrick's Day festivities it seems he was greeted with a letter from the American Chamber of Commerce in which it questioned the Irish Government's right to introduce this legislation. The letter stated that its provisions on branding could degrade intellectual property rights and affect American and Irish business. Philip Morris, the company that makes Marlboro cigarettes, is leading the charge on this issue. As I noted, Marlboro relies heavily on image, including its image as an attractive product for young people. Anyone who smokes will be aware that this is the case. If one visits a pub or nightclub on a Saturday night, one will see many young people with Marlboro cigarettes. It is important to the company to be able to maintain its image because for many people their products call to mind images of cowboys and so forth.
In the course of this debate, we have heard that smoking rates increased in Australia after plain packaging was introduced. I have heard a similar argument being made on the streets when this topic was being discussed. If smoking rates increased in Australia following the introduction of plain packaging, why would cigarette companies take the Australian Government to court? Why are they threatening to take court cases against every country that considers this type of measure? They do so because plain packaging has the potential to discourage young people from starting to smoke.
For me, as a socialist, intellectual property rights and branding go to the heart of capitalism. Capitalism will take a stand to save a brand and the right of companies to brand in a certain way to sell products that people do not need or want or could do without and to make them sound attractive. In the case of cigarettes, which we all know are extremely damaging, the tobacco companies want to maintain their sacred capitalist right to be able to brand any product in any way they wish. This shows how the free market capitalist system operates in a way that runs counter to what is needed, namely, a generalised policy of opposition to the tobacco industry.
A previous speaker referred to methadone. There is nothing glamorous about methadone and no young person wants to be a methadone addict. Addiction is a slow process. People do not set out to become addicts. Addiction usually occurs because the activity in question makes a person feel good or glamorous or creates a feeling of bonding. The argument that packaging has no effect because smokers' only concern is smoking is wrong. Packaging adds to the allure of smoking and it is important for this reason that countries take a stance on the issue.
Most addiction relates to three areas, namely, tobacco, alcohol and food, a major problem to which previous speakers referred. Measures could be introduced to tackle addiction to alcohol, gambling and so forth, which are also glamorised. However, this is a specific measure with the specific aim, based on the fact that most people who smoke start smoking at a young age, of removing a certain association that has been created by the marketing and advertising industries.
It is sickening how much money is wasted marketing goods to people. This money could be spent creating things that society needs, for example, houses and hospitals. The amount of money spent on marketing should be challenged at all levels.
I am pleased to support this move towards plain packaging.
For years, the tobacco industry tried to hide the fact but all the medical evidence shows that smoking kills. While the odd smoker may be lucky enough to reach the age of 80 or 90 years, smokers generally do not live to old age. The tobacco industry is one of the most invidious industries in the world. It has been able to buy off governments, organisations and politicians across the globe and has nearly bought off Europe in its effort to keep the industry going. Moreover, it has done so in the knowledge that it is killing people with its products.
As a smoker, I will support any measure aimed at encouraging people to stop smoking. Those who quit smoking remain smokers because they are always open to the temptation of starting to smoke again. When I started smoking at the age of 13 years, packaging was not an issue as I was able to buy single cigarettes in shops. My decision was not related to branding or the colour of the packet but the result of peer pressure. My cousin and friends were smoking and I decided, out of curiosity, to try it out. I now smoke electronic cigarettes, which are controversial.
People with an addiction will do anything to get hold of the product to which they are addicted. Attempts to price cigarettes out of smokers' reach have failed because smokers will always find money to pay for a packet of cigarettes, even it means going without a meal at the end of the week. The removal of branding from cigarette vending machines has not had a significant impact as 22% of the population continues to smoke. The ban on smoking in workplaces, which was introduced ten years ago, had an impact and caused some people to stop smoking. However, unless people want to stop smoking, none of these measures will matter because they are addicted.
Plain packaging will not matter because people will still be addicted. If I was a young person with a smoking addiction, I would buy a nice box to put my cigarettes in when the measure is introduced. This would avoid the embarrassment of having a plain packet. There are many ways to get around this measure. Small shops are selling little cigarette boxes featuring nice colours and designs to encourage young people who smoke to put their cigarettes in them and there is no doubt that people will buy them.
While I am not opposed in principle to plain packaging, I do not believe the measure will achieve the objective the Minister has set. I hope the review to be carried out in Australia at the end of 2014 will produce accurate figures on whether smoking in that country has increased or decreased.
It looks as though there has been an increase in the illegal trade of cigarettes in Australia over the period. I would like to see the figures in the review and how much of an impact on the sale of cigarettes plain packaging has had.
The reason I raise these issues is that the point was made about encouraging young people into sports. I started smoking when I was 13. I was a runner and I ran with Clonliffe Harriers, I was a basketball player and I was a swimmer. I was involved in sports all my life until my mid-30s, but that did not distract me from smoking. Once I took that first drag or the second drag, and the second cigarette, I was addicted. The issue is broader than what the Minister is introducing here.
It was always a big bugbear of mine that while those with alcohol problem can access detox clinics to pull themselves out of society for three months and get detoxed, and drug addicts can access similar facilities, the view is that smokers should just give them up. One cannot just stop smoking. Nicotine and the rubbish they have in cigarettes is more addictive than heroin. It is not possible to just give them up; it involves a change of mindset. Anybody who has smoked and has stopped will be aware that the smoker himself or herself must make that decision.
The only thing that has made me want to move to stop smoking is when I ended up with pleurisy, pneumonia and the first stages of emphysema. That made me say that I have to stop and I do not want to be going around with an oxygen tank on my back when I am 55 or 60 years of age. That is what stopped me in my tracks.
If the Minister seriously wants to encourage smokers to stop, the first step is to help them see that smoking kills. We all think we are invincible and it will not happen to us. The Minister should provide detox clinics where smokers can take themselves out of society for three months so as not to be engaged with the social scene of smoking because one needs that time to be able to stop smoking. I stopped smoking without any support for two years and I went back on them again. I have used nicotine chewing gum. I have used the patches. I have used everything to try and stop smoking. The response has to be bigger. I do not accept what the Minister says, that plain packaging has an impact on many young people. It might have an impact on some of them but if someone gives a friend a pull of a cigarette and he or she starts that one cigarette or the second one, he or she will most likely become addicted, although some do not become addicted.
Those are the sort of measures that should be put in place to support those who are coming off cigarettes. Those who do not smoke do not realise that a smoker's system crashes as such because the loss of nicotine in their system affects their blood. When one stops smoking, there are times when, walking down the street, one will suddenly become dizzy, cannot walk and must sit down. One has to take time out. One gets cranky. One gets narky with members of your family. It is very difficult to cease the addiction.
I will not oppose the Bill but it will not be enough. It will not achieve the outcome with smokers that some believe it will because, as I said, once one is addicted, one will do anything in one's power and find ways to keep one's addiction, but using ways to prevent it in a different way. It is those areas that should be looked at. The supports for those who want to stop smoking have to be looked at because without those supports there will be fewer deciding to stop. Those thinking about stopping smoking are on their own. One can go to a chemist who will talk about the Nicorette chewing gum, tablet or patch, but then one is on one's own, the decision must be made alone. There have to be other ways to be able to support smokers to go into a clinic for a period of time to break the cycle of addiction. Then those who are making their mind up can go somewhere like that and get support. That would be much more effective than plain packaging.
I wish to share time with Deputy Regina Doherty.
And, possibly, Deputy Kyne.
And Deputy Kyne.
That is what I was told.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
At the outset, I recognise that smoking is a personal decision for one who wishes to smoke. I also wish to state clearly that I do not like smoking because I have seen at first hand the damage that it has caused to personal health within my own family. However, I do not lecture those who smoke because I understand that it is an addiction, as spelled out by the previous speaker, that is not easily given up. We need to acknowledge that. I sympathise with those who smoke who genuinely try to give them up, find it increasingly difficult and cannot succeed in doing so. I would support the thought, and any effort, that could be put into resources to assist those who are trying to give up smoking to do so. As I said, I come from a family that has had heavy smokers. Indeed, it has caused heart disease and death in my family. It is for that reason, since I was a young man, that I have opposed the idea of smoking. It was because of the health consequences of smoking.
I listened with interest earlier to Deputy Finian McGrath. It is important in any debate to have dissenting voices and the Deputy made it clear that his was such a voice, to which he is entitled. However, he made the claim that because of this legislation, smokers are being hammered. I would pose the question, "How so?" I suspect that the Deputy was playing the victim here and, I suppose, appealing to smokers such as himself, but there are real victims when we speak about smoking.
The statistics are available and other Members have already outlined them. Between 6,500 and 7,000 smokers die each year in Ireland due to the habit. Approximately, 28,000 persons die each year in Ireland. That figure is down, from 35,000 in 1950, but it is still far too many. I suspect that any hospital consultant who deals with lung cancer or heart disease would say that one can always trace the problem back in many cases to smoking. That is a serious liability on families, but also on the health services. For that reason, I welcome any initiative that has the potential to reduce smoking and the number taking up smoking in this country. There is nothing positive I can say about smoking for the reasons I have outlined.
I take this opportunity to give credit to Fianna Fáil and former Minister, Deputy Martin - something I do not often do. I commend him on the introduction of the smoking ban in workplaces in 2004. It was a progressive move and the Irish people, and smokers as well, responded positively to it. I also commend the Government and the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on his further efforts to reduce the harmful effects of smoking on citizens and society.
The Bill will play some part but it is clearly not the only answer. There has to be a suite of changes, in resource allocation and in legislation to stop the marketing of cigarettes. However, it is an element and it will go some way in reducing smoking.
I have here with me a small advertisement from a packet of cigarettes that was brought to my attention last year. It states on one side that smoking kills and it has all the precautionary messages on it. However, it also markets what the company calls the "ICEBALL" capsule, the purpose of which is to "crush, to experience a fresh burst". That is the experience the smoker would have - a fresh burst of menthol or something like that. It is to make the experience even more pleasant, but it does not say anything about the thousands of lethal bursts of inhalation that smokers take when they inhale tar and nicotine from cigarettes. It is a cynical attempt by the tobacco industry to make the smoking experience even more attractive. That is wrong, especially when we are aware of the health effects that it can have.
The tobacco industry is vociferously opposing this move. Some Members have said that the Bill will not have an impact. If it would not have an impact, the tobacco industry would not be getting involved to the extent that it is.
It will have an impact, especially on young smokers of the future. As I stated, cigarette companies have made cigarette packaging attractive. There is pink cigarette packaging to make smoking attractive to young ladies. This legislation is a clear, positive statement by the Government that smoking has serious health implications, and it is not an initiative of a nanny state. Society and taxpayers ultimately pay for the implications of smoking because we must provide health services to treat those affected by smoking-related diseases.
Deputy Penrose said that if he were Minister for Finance, he would be taxing the living daylights out of tobacco because he regards it as a discretionary product. I disagree with him because there is nothing discretionary about addiction. Anybody in this House who has ever had to watch somebody he or she cared about die from a tobacco-related disease caused by addiction knows full well it is far from discretionary. The vast majority of people who smoke in this country will tell one that they do not do so because they want to but because they cannot stop. This Bill is all about ensuring that my teenagers at home and the vast majority of other teenagers will not start. On that basis, it is a bloody marvellous initiative.
Tobacco is the only product on the market that, when used exactly as the manufacturer intends, kills one. When one says that, it floors one. The Irish and other nationalities do not genuinely appreciate the real and serious harm caused by smoking. This is borne out by a survey by the HSE in 2010. It reported that only 7% of the people surveyed knew that smoking killed half of smokers in the longer term. The most recent media campaign by the Irish Cancer Society shows also that one in every two smokers will die from smoking. This is phenomenal. Some 5,500 to 7,500 people die from smoking-related diseases in this country every year. Some 44% of the deaths are from cancer, and 90% of lung cancers are attributable to smoking. Some 30% of all cancers are caused by smoking. Some 25% of those who have heart attacks have them because they smoke, and 11% of all people who die from strokes do so because they smoke. These are startling statistics. That only 7% of people in Ireland know about them indicates we are probably not giving the Irish Cancer Society enough money to get the message across.
The message from this Bill is loud and clear. The tobacco industry will no longer be able to use its marketing tools to encourage our young people to start smoking. The industry needs to recruit 50 of our children every single day just to maintain its market. It does not want to maintain its market but to grow it. Our job is to make sure it shrinks. This Bill will take away one of the industry's key tools of promotion. The majority of smokers start when they are young adults or children, and packaging is mainly aimed at young people. The consequences for children, adult smokers and health services are absolutely enormous. The last statistic I saw was that nearly €3 billion of the €13 billion we spend on health services is for services for people with tobacco-related illnesses.
I am very proud of the current Minister's mission to tackle the powerful industry. The tobacco industry will not be given a veto over our public health policy, regardless of the legal thrusts. Some have already been made and, by Jove, I am sure there will be many more. Tobacco packaging and branding comprise one of the last remaining ways for the industry to market its products among our children. We will not be putting shareholders of international companies ahead of the future health of our children.
This is a battle that must be won. I agree with Deputy Joan Collins that this Bill is not the only initiative required. There will certainly be a reaction from the tobacco industry, not just a legal one but one based on marketing and packaging. The Deputy stated packets will be made to slip into plain packets. This is a battle that we must win and we must be ready. This legislation is just one prong of an approach to ensure we will be tobacco free in Ireland by 2025. I very much support the initiative and all the organisations who have supported it, including the group that got together to seek a tobacco-free Ireland.
The legislation puts Ireland to the forefront in the implementation of legal obligations under the UN treaty and the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. By setting an example for other European countries, we will be demonstrating that the benefits of this legislation should not be confined to our shores. The legislation will help to protect current and future generations of Irish children, particularly those from underprivileged areas who are more prone to taking up smoking. We hope to look forward to long and healthy lives free of tobacco-related illnesses. I advocate speedy adoption of this legislation by the Houses and genuinely look forward to the day when Ireland can claim to be tobacco free.
As has been said by others, up to 5,200 people, including relatives, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens, die from smoking every year. That is nearly 20 times the number of people who lose their lives on Irish roads each year. While there is always some initial grumbling, measures to improve road safety and save lives on the roads are generally put in place and adhered to without a struggle. However, with tobacco the situation is very different. The process of regulating and restricting the consumption of tobacco and cigarettes has been a struggle that has been ongoing for decades. The power and might of the tobacco companies and their lobbyists have acted as a deterrent to legislators and public representatives across the world.
Only this week we heard from US public representatives on the threat this Bill poses to business interests and rights. This is indicative of a growing trend of international pressure being brought to bear on Irish public representatives and others. International groups and, more significantly, international resources and money, are featuring increasingly in the democratic process here in Ireland. We have seen this most recently in other health-related legislation, and I have no doubt that we will see it again during the marriage equality referendum campaign, most likely because that referendum will be the first nationwide referendum on that issue. Without doubt, there will be those trying to exert an influence from outside Ireland in the hope of shaping the outcome on the question of extending the right to marry to all citizens, irrespective of sexual orientation.
On the issue of smoking, it is intriguing to see the pressure and lobbying in favour of tobacco consumption continuing long after the negative and deathly consequences have been demonstrated. For decades, inescapable proof has been available to show that smoking kills. Smoking causes a range of illnesses that cause suffering and limit lives, yet the progress made in combating the public health threat has been slow, not least because of the pressure placed on public representatives.
In Ireland, the first efforts at effectively warning people of the dangers came in 1964 with the launch of a voluntary code on advertising. It was another seven years before tobacco advertising was banned on television and yet another seven until the Oireachtas introduced legislation in the form of the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act. A further ten years passed before the sale of tobacco products to children was outlawed with the Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) Act 1988. It was only in the 1990s and early years of this century that successive Governments intensified efforts with the amendments to tobacco control legislation and new regulations. Perhaps the most widely known measure is the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Act 2004, which introduced the smoking ban in workplaces, as alluded to by Deputy Coffey.
Health is a subject that occupies a huge number of column inches and radio and television airtime. Most of the commentary and news coverage is negative, and unfairly so. The successes of our health system are rarely accepted or highlighted and the Minister for Health has one of the most difficult jobs in any Government. There is a constant barrage of criticism and a constant stream of negativity, which surely erodes confidence and positivity. However, no citizen, public representative, lobbyist, journalist, broadcaster or commentator can dispute the commitment of the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, to combating the public health crisis that smoking represents. He has been steadfast in his commitment to improving and protecting the health of the people by tackling smoking and by utilising the national Parliament to achieve this.
Given the facts, the extent of opposition to tobacco control and other measures to help people avoid the deadly addiction beggars belief. One in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease. The cost to the State of tobacco-related diseases in 2009 was €500 million. The cost to the State of premature mortality caused by smoking in 2009 was €3.5 billion. The most important fact is that 5,200 Irish people, from every city, town and village, die prematurely from smoking-related illness every single year.
The Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 is the Minister's latest legislation aimed at saving lives. It is not an issue of restricting rights or damaging retailers. It is about saving lives. The Bill will control the design and appearance of tobacco products and cigarette packaging and reduce the appeal of tobacco products. Nobody can deny that colourful and eye-catching packaging attracts the attention of consumers. The size of health warnings will be increased so that a person is left in no doubt about what smoking is doing to them. The Bill will also eliminate some of the misleading nonsense peddled to consumers about the effects of smoking. Many stakeholders with an interest in protecting and preserving public health agree it will discourage young people and, hopefully, adults from taking up smoking. Increased health warnings will give people further reasons to reflect on the activity. I commend the various groups involved in warning us about the dangers of smoking, including the Irish Cancer Society, ASH Ireland, the Asthma Society, the Irish Heart Foundation and Croí in the west of Ireland.
The arguments against this Bill do not stand up to scrutiny. One argument is that it will make counterfeiting easier, but if groups or criminal organisations are intent on counterfeiting tobacco products, no amount of legislation will dissuade them. Another argument is that placing further restrictions on tobacco products harms the retail sector. It probably is the case that some business in retail stores is generated through tobacco sales. The retailers will speak about the importance of getting footfall through the door because customers will also purchase other products. However, it is unrealistic to expect the Government to do nothing to combat an activity or addiction which is so harmful to smokers and the wider society.
Another concern expressed about illegal cigarettes pertains to the quality of their contents and the potential that they include higher quantities of harmful products. It has been estimated, based on assessments of discarded packaging of whether duty was paid on them, that up to 30% of cigarettes are illegal. I commend all those involved in the recent seizure of cigarettes, which was the biggest seizure in Europe this year. We need to remain vigilant of the criminals involved in the illicit trade in tobacco. We also need to tighten the policing of those who are intent on breaking the law. I understand the need to save money in a recession but converting from legal to illegal cigarettes does not save as much money as giving them up entirely. This Bill will go some way towards reducing the number of people who take up smoking.
Another argument put forward is based on intellectual property rights. The Irish Cancer Society has pointed out that while the Constitution protects property rights under Article 40.3.2° and Article 43, it also recognises that in a civil society property rights have to be regulated by principles of social justice and in accordance with the common good. By introducing plain packaging, this legislation seeks to protect and promote public health by preventing young persons from taking up smoking and consuming tobacco products. On the issue of trademarks, the society pointed out that the Bill does not cause the loss of any rights under the Trade Marks Act 1996 but only a justified and proportionate restriction of the use of trademarks. We already restrict the use of tobacco related trademarks in that they cannot advertise on television, billboards or retail premises.
Another argument against this Bill is that no evidence exists to show that standardised packaging will put customers off. If this was really the case, why do companies from every sector spend substantial sums of money on designing packaging to attract customers? Why would companies go to this expense if it did not influence a person's purchasing choices? Standardised packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012 and it has had the desired impact of reducing the number of people who smoke. Standardised packaging will reduce the appeal of tobacco products to young people and end the belief among smokers that some cigarettes are less harmful than others. It will also make health warnings more effective and increase negative feelings about smoking. This has been demonstrated in surveys carried out in Australia. A recent study carried out in the state of Victoria found that those who smoked cigarettes from standardised packs perceived them as being lower in quality and less satisfying, were more likely to have thought about quitting at least once per day, rated quitting as a higher priority and tended to support the policy on standardised packaging. Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that the number of calls to a quit line increased by 78% following the introduction of standardised packaging. New research by the Cancer Council of Victoria observed a decline in the number of patrons who smoked in cafés when packs were displayed on tables. The research clearly shows that the policy works. If it did not work we would not be subjected to such a level of lobbying from opponents of the Bill working in the tobacco industry. They know the Bill will help to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking, and that is why I support it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I found the debate to be very informative and I thank Deputy Buttimer in particular for synthesising the work of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and presenting statistics on age cohorts, usage rates and what has happened over the years in terms of how many people died have directly or through smoking related diseases. It is shocking that 100 people die every week from a habit that has received acceptance from society. That is the equivalent of five primary school classes.
Cigarette and pipe smoking has been an accepted behavioural pattern in society for more than 100 years. Compare this with asbestos, which was the accepted way of insulating buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. Asbestos had its own brands and trademark names, but as soon as it was discovered that it could cause asbestosis, a form of cancer that developed many years after people breathed in asbestos fibres, the buildings containing it were evacuated. The UN building in Brussels was deemed to be a health hazard and nobody was allowed to work in it. Imagine if the burgers that contained horsemeat were allowed to remain on the shelves. They did not even cause deaths; they were simply substandard in quality. They were whipped off the shelves and out of the factories and we were able to trace them back to their origins. However, when it comes to cigarettes, there appears to be a vague and foggy tolerance even though we are irrefutably aware of the death and destruction they cause.
Deputy Coppinger made a robust and comprehensive contribution. I fully support the introduction of standardised packaging and frightening pictures of what smoking does to an individual's health and body. If such packaging does not make a difference, why are tobacco companies and those involved in the trade exercised about it? Clearly it makes a difference. Younger people are impressionable. When I smoked the red packets of Carrolls Number 1, it was regarded as a superior product to Sweet Afton untipped.
It was "Aaah" for an Afton and meant to be like breathing in fresh air but it was not fresh air.
It was a great idea to remove smoking from the workplace and public places but there is now a tolerance for creating areas on the doorsteps of pubs and lounges, which makes them a social space for young people. In such areas, the lethal cocktail of alcohol and cigarettes looks cool, as this is where people are sociable and have a chat. If people want a drink or two while having a chat, they have to almost run a gauntlet in getting through this "social corridor" into the pub. The cool conversations, cigarettes and alcohol are on the doorsteps.
Television channel BBC 4 did a documentary a couple of years ago about Philip Morris and British American Tobacco and their efforts to ensure they expanded production and sales across the globe, particularly in developing countries. I do not know how senior managers and the boards of directors in these companies can face humanity knowing what they do. It is ironic that a recent chairman of the Bank of Ireland moved from that position, with a salary of approximately €500,000, to a job worth £600,000 per year as chairman of British American Tobacco. Banks were badly and irresponsibly led for seven or eight years so maybe it is an easy move for such people.
There is the issue of contraband and the problem of security packaging being easily counterfeited by illegal organisations and criminals. It is possible to put into the proposed standard packages with off-putting pictures of harm to the body some form of security printed coupon. Packages can have the equivalent security level as legal currency in some countries, and high-quality security printing can be done so packages can contain coupons. Perhaps that would help in the detection of counterfeit products. The fines relating to criminal activity and illegal importing are not particularly off-putting, so perhaps penalties should be imposed on those who ship the products. Even if they are innocent of what is in the containers on the ships, if there was a possibility that a fine of €500,000, for example, would be imposed if illegal cargo is found, the shippers would ensure they know the contents of their cargo. We can get real about this.
In an effort to put off people from using cigarettes, the highly flavoured and sweetened additives for tobacco could be substituted through force with compounds that smell awful. The people currently addicted would have a new flavour that may help them break the addiction. It would certainly put off younger people if the taste was bad. When most people start smoking cigarettes, it is not a pleasant experience and they do it to identify with a peer group or be "cool". Deputy Joan Collins described the struggle of addiction to cigarettes and anybody who smoked knows about it. Nevertheless, the day a person gives up cigarettes comes down to a decision. It is the same for a person on illegal drugs such as cocaine, and one day that person has to decide whether to stay on the treadmill of addiction, which could lead to disimproving health and perhaps death. It is not easy to make such a decision.
The tolerance of smoking in society makes us a bit wishy-washy about this. This packaging measure is a start and it will take out the glamour from being introduced to what could become a smoking habit. It is a deterrent but I would go further. I would force manufacturers to include an additive with a bad smell or taste. It would lead to an outcry but so what? When horsemeat was found in burgers, everybody wanted products whipped from the shelves. There was a Perrier water scandal because the company was unsure of the contents in some bottles and every bottle was removed from the shelves. Nevertheless, the cigarettes we know for certain will kill one from every two smokers in the long run, amounting to 5,200 people per year, are still on the shelves. Perhaps younger people could see patients with emphysema in hospitals struggling to breathe on visits to wards. Such real-life experience would do much more than seeing a photograph, which is inert. People have been desensitised and a photograph will not do as much to put off people than hearing somebody struggling to breathe and coughing. Such a sight can be very upsetting.
The Minister is dead right that this is part of a range of measures to bring smoking rates to 5% or less by 2025. It is aimed at teenagers, for whom smoking is like a rite of passage. There is a cocktail involved in this rite, consisting of alcohol and cigarettes. There are also iPhone apps for gambling on football matches, etc., which leads to more instant gratification and rebellion. That can happen as soon as a boy's voice breaks or he gets some fuzz on his chin. These are rites of passage into the adult world. Young people do not see the truthful counterbalance as everything is packaged, as Deputy Coppinger noted, in glamorous presentations. It is the big lie.
We can now see in television soaps pub scenes which glamorise drink, chat, socialising and easily accessible betting apps. In the more upmarket soaps like "The Good Wife" there are top-class lawyers at the peak of their careers and after a day's work in the court, they are rewarded with a big glass of red wine. They sniff it to savour the vapours and have sophisticated social chat while using mobile telephones. This is a subtle suggestion to people that these are little moments of enjoyment which take the edge from daily living but that is misleading.
This brings us back to the point of sale of the product. The Minister is right, the fact that all his medical colleagues fully support the Bill and that the manufacturers of cigarettes and tobacco are against it makes it a slam dunk that it is the right thing to do. As Deputy Penrose said, the other way to get at this is to start putting upward pressure on the price of cigarettes through taxation. I know people will say that is regressive taxation because so many who do not have the benefit of education are severely addicted and it will hit their pockets more than it will the pockets of those who are well-to-do. If the Minister explains that the extra revenue to be gained temporarily from this move will be ring-fenced and directed to sports investments for young people or medical supports for people with emphysema and so on, the message becomes clear. It will connect the tax with something which we hope will be eliminated from our way of life. Those extra taxes will be used to support the physical costs of that habit.
Breaking the habit is a decision and people can use supports to help commit to that decision. Deputy Joan Collins said she was off cigarettes for two years then went back on them. That could happen at an occasion or a celebration where somebody says, "ah go on, just have one". Unfortunately one cannot afford to go back. I speak from personal experience. A total of 100 people a week, the equivalent of five primary school classes of 20, die unnecessarily. Our society came to accept smoking, although it did not accept toxins in food. Inhaling cigarette smoke is as bad as ingesting toxins in food. We have zero tolerance for anything that contaminates our food. Perrier spent €5 million or €10 million when it removed its product from the shelf over two days. It did not want its brand name hurt. The irony is that cigarette manufacturers talk about their trademarks and brand names, which are instruments of death. They might as well be called Kalashnikovs.
I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill. It will, I hope, make young people aware that smoking is better avoided. The sociable buzz of the annexes to pubs and lounges where people enjoy beers, which is fine at the right level, and cigarettes, makes them the cool place to be. Unfortunately, it counteracts the direction of this Bill. Why can we not just legislate to force manufacturers to introduce a distasteful ingredient rather than one that improves the taste. To add to the addiction, as they do, with scent and pleasant flavours, such as menthol, is doubly sinister and wrong.
Huge fines should be imposed on shippers and importers even if they say they did not know their containers held cigarettes. If they are fined €500,000 they will begin to know and take an interest in what is in their containers. That will complement the efforts of customs and excise officers and the police to counteract the activities of criminals. Contraband includes perfume and spirits as well as cigarettes on the mainland of Europe. This trade can be tackled if the penalties are serious and applied.
I congratulate the Minister on this ground-breaking legislation, which is the first of its kind in Europe. The measure has already been introduced in Australia and New Zealand. Two fundamental questions arise. Do we accept that cigarettes do harm? If we accept that, do we see a link between packaging and smoking? Does it make smoking more attractive? If the answer is yes it is absolutely necessary to support the legislation enthusiastically.
The evidence that cigarettes harm people is compelling in that 5,200 die each year as a result of diseases caused by smoking. One in two smokers die from smoking-related illnesses. Cigarette smoking costs the State €650 million a year. One point that does not get enough currency, which relates to a point made in Deputy Mathews’ very erudite contribution, is that cigarettes contribute significantly to poverty. I discovered this through working with, and visiting, people in estates. Those who smoke regularly spend such a disproportionate amount of their income on cigarettes that it contributes to their poverty.
A group of retailers in Cavan town approached me to say they would lose revenue through illicit trade in cigarettes which would grow because of the plain packaging. The shopkeepers’ concerns are understandable given that, in Border constituencies in particular, they suffer from fuel laundering, and cigarette smuggling. While I support the legislation, we must take cognisance of their concern. A total of €650 million a year would be saved if we could eliminate cigarette smoking and maybe we could deflect money to more supervision by customs and police officers on the streets.
It is wonderful that significant finds of illegal cigarettes were made in Drogheda the other day. We need to up the ante in this respect because shopkeepers deserve such support. As these shopkeepers have children, they would not suggest that the answer lies in making cigarette smoking or packaging attractive. While their point that illicit cigarette sales are affecting their livelihoods and businesses might not be politically correct, it merits being put on the record.
There is empirical evidence of a direct link between the use of attractive packaging and the increased prevalence of smoking. There is evidence from Australia and New Zealand that the use of plain packaging reduced considerably the rate of cigarette smoking. It is interesting that when the packaging is plain, people think cigarettes taste less well and are less attractive. There is even a suggestion that people think the plainly packaged cigarettes are not of the same quality as the cigarettes they bought previously. The link between packaging and the popularity of cigarettes has been well established. I will go through all of the figures the next time this Bill comes before the House.