We support the provisions in the Bill and we welcome the fact it has made its way to the House so we can discuss its import and broader issues regarding the tobacco industry. I welcome the Minister's remark that the Commission had no negative comment on the Bill with regard to plain packaging.
I like to say I am constructive in opposition. The Minister and I very often disagreed when he held his previous role, but I have always acknowledged, which may not make him feel any better, the efforts he has made in his fight against the tobacco trade and industry, including during the Irish Presidency of the EU. It is important we accept the tobacco industry is quite insidious in how it targets people, and there is no doubt about this. I have raised this issue in the House many times.
As the Minister stated, for 50 years the industry hid the fact passive smoking causes physical harm to people. It hid the statistics and facts regarding the impact of tobacco on the health of individuals and nations. It hid the fact that for years it has flooded countries with huge amounts of tobacco so it can find its way into the illegal trade. All of these things are done by companies registered on stock exchanges throughout the world. The industry also hid the fact that in their advertising campaigns companies target young children in poor developing countries in Asia and Africa. All of this is out there and must be acknowledged.
I can understand the pressure a government can come under internally and externally because of strong lobbying, including at governmental level. Clearly there have been moves afoot by some European countries to try to water down the plain packaging legislation which the Minister pioneered. This in itself is an indication the tobacco industry has allies at very high levels. We can understand why this is, as some countries have large numbers of tobacco-growing farmers and large companies manufacturing cigarettes which provide employment, but this should not deter us from doing what is right, and what is right is to ensure we make every effort to protect the health of our citizens.
The Minister stated the Commission made no negative comments on the plain packaging legislation. I hope we are not deterred from leading the way internationally in our fight against tobacco companies and the tobacco industry. Our only motivation is to ensure our citizens have as much opportunity as possible to live a life without the pressure of addiction to nicotine and tobacco-related illnesses, which affect so many people. According to the statistics almost 1,500 people develop lung cancer each year, and most cases are directly associated to smoking. There are also many other ailments and illnesses and it also affects quality of life. To be a slave to nicotine for all one's life can have a huge debilitating impact on one's self-esteem, finance and well-being. This can have an impact on people fulfilling their lives physically and mentally and this factor should also be taken into account.
For all these reasons any legislation or policy brought forward by the Minister to discourage people from smoking and encourage people to give up, and which takes the fight internationally to the tobacco companies throughout the world which have endless resources and, unfortunately, an endless supply of customers because of their nefarious ways of enticing young people to take up smoking, is something we will consistently support, encourage and applaud. The Minister used the Irish Presidency of the EU very effectively to highlight the importance of the EU taking the lead in this issue.
The statistics and facts cannot be disputed any further. All empirical evidence shows quite clearly that tobacco is a killer. It destroys people's health and lives. Even this Bill is an acknowledgement that we must make every effort to protect people in our society. The Bill is targeted at juveniles and young people. The Minister asked us to think of a child strapped in a car seat with a fog of smoke.
A child strapped in a car seat in the back and a fog of smoke in the car is something that people now look at in shock and horror. In a short time our society's behavioural patterns have evolved, including in the area of drink-driving and the wearing of seatbelts. We need legislation to change human behaviour at times. We need legislation to encourage and we also need legislation that is used as a means of changing people's perspectives of how they view certain circumstances. It is now socially unacceptable to smoke in many cases and many environments. Equally it must be socially unacceptable to smoke in cars when juveniles and children are in the vehicle. That is why we are supporting the Bill.
I acknowledge the sponsors of the Bill on its inception in the Seanad: Senator Crown, an eminent oncologist; Senator van Turnhout, who has experience with children and child protection; and Senator Daly. It indicates that when an idea has merit, it is embraced by the Minister and taken on board. It is very welcome that it is now winding its way through the legislative process to its finality.
The Minister outlined the basic thrust of the Bill, including the principle of the Bill, the enforcement sections and the penalties. As always in such areas, it is important to have an advertising campaign on the provisions of the Bill. I believe that if the reason legislation is being introduced is explained in a coherent and concise manner, it always has better buy-in than if it is just passed into statute and we find enforcement without explanation. I hope the Minister will be able to organise an advertising campaign around this. When trying to change behavioural patterns, for example with recycling and safety on farms, if advertising campaigns are done through children they can have greater benefit than if they are done through adults.
On the broader issue of smoking, as I have mentioned earlier and in previous debates, we must accept that nicotine is an addiction. People will go to enormous lengths and endure financial hardship to smoke and feed their nicotine habit. I say that as a person who battles with that particular addiction and from time to time I fall off the wagon. We must have supports in place for people who want to give them up. I know the HSE has a helpline but we need to encourage people consistently to stop smoking.
In terms of policy, we have decided that we should continue to increase the price of tobacco products. We have also decided to make them unattractive through the use of the plain packaging and also the graphic photographs on tobacco products. Those are all very welcome measures. However, at the end of the day, the fact that it is an addiction means that people need help to give them up. Through advertising and promotional work we should target that type of message throughout stated health policy. As opposed to using the stick at all times, we need to make people believe that they can kick the habit.
The tobacco industry is working insidiously in the background on how it promotes its product. A very worrying trend based on the statistics is the number of girls who take up smoking, which is a key area to be addressed. One does not need any statistical data to see kids leaving secondary schools and lighting up. It is used in terms of making them look like Kate Moss or some other high-profile person. This type of advertising is subtly fed out by the tobacco industry to imply that smoking acts as an appetite suppressant and one will not put on weight. This is done in a very insidious way and has undercurrents all the time. This highlights the levels to which tobacco companies will stoop to get another generation of people addicted to their products. We need to be progressive and proactive in that area. We need advertising campaigns targeted at particular groups of people to counteract the insidious message that comes from tobacco companies.
The smoking ban has been in place for ten years. That is an indication that people can embrace something when it is explained and done for positive reasons. This legislation is also done for all the right reasons. I can see no downside reaction from people other than it can discommode people's habits, but it is done for many reasons. The smoking ban was introduced as a workplace ban, but the people who benefited more than anybody else were the smokers because it reduced the amount they consumed. Previously they could go into a pub, order a pint, sit up on the high stool and smoke 20 cigarettes. The requirement to go out and come back in reduced individuals' consumption. Anytime one cigarette less is smoked, it has to be of benefit.
The same will apply here. Obviously, it is designed to protect children in mechanically propelled vehicles, in other words cars. However, it will also encourage those people who would be inclined to hop into the car, reach for the cigarette and light up before driving off. The legislation might start to change people's habits and anything that reduces the habit of tobacco consumption is very welcome.
The Irish Cancer Society and many other organisations that work at the coalface of dealing with people who have contracted cancer and other illnesses because of smoking all welcome the legislation. It is generally welcomed across the board. I hope the people will strongly embrace the legislation. Gardaí are obliged to enforce it, but before we enforce it we should have the advertising campaign on it to ensure people are aware of their obligations when in charge of a vehicle with regard to the health of juveniles and children in the car. The Garda Síochána should then be seen to be actively encouraging compliance with the law after a period of time when it is bedded down and people are aware it is on the Statute Book and that it is illegal to smoke in a car containing a person aged 18 or under.
The broader issue we need to consider is that we still have a huge cohort of people who smoke. We are all well aware that we have role models. I return to what I said earlier about girls smoking. In general boys have role models who are normally involved in sport, including soccer and rugby players, and where I come from they are hurlers and footballers as well. They are normally very positive role models.
There is a key area for advocacy groups who advocate on behalf of children to try to ensure that we start to highlight our positive role models. Referring again to girls smoking, we have wonderful sporting individuals, including the Cork ladies footballers, Derval O'Rourke and Sonia O'Sullivan. We have a plethora of them from around the country - many of them happen to be from Cork, but I do not mention it for any parochial reasons. We have a huge cohort of female athletes who could be critical to promoting a culture of healthy living among girls. It is an area where we are falling down at present.
I hope the Minister can, as part of his remit, tap into the huge resources that are out there in order to convey a positive message to young girls about sports, healthy lifestyle and the fact that smoking is not and should not be seen as a way of dealing with other issues.
I commend the Minister on bringing the Bill through the Houses. I hope it will have a positive and meaningful impact on our children's health in the years ahead.