The battle against tobacco is one of the most important health challenges facing us. It is clear the Government has prioritised tackling the huge negative impact that tobacco products have on the health of the nation — be this an impact from active smoking or from exposure to second hand smoke.
The impact of tobacco consumption on human health globally and nationally is well documented. Tobacco smoke is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in Ireland. Medical evidence has repeatedly confirmed tobacco as a cause of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, common cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthmatic attacks, low birth weight babies and sudden infant death syndrome. Approximately 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to tobacco related illness. Smoking tobacco products is one of the unhealthiest things a human being can do.
Life expectancy is lower in Ireland than the EU average and the diseases which contribute primarily to this are heart disease and cancer. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of these diseases. Smoking is a major causative factor in some 90% of the 2,000 deaths from lung cancer each year and increases the risk of other cancers such as cancer of the mouth and throat. Smoking is also a primary cause of cardiovascular disease, the greatest single cause of mortality in Ireland. Tobacco is a significant burden to individuals, families and society through death, illness and medical costs. Reduction in tobacco use will increase life expectancy in Ireland and result in happier, healthier and better quality lives for many Irish people.
Evidence has accumulated year on year of the enormous worldwide threat to human health from consumption of tobacco products. Studies carried out internationally in recent years have also confirmed there is a significant risk to the health of the non-smoker from inhaling environmental tobacco smoke referred to as second hand smoke or passive smoking.
The Public Health Tobacco Act 2002 was enacted in March 2002. The Act is the most comprehensive anti-tobacco legislation ever in this country and confirmed the commitment of the Government and the Oireachtas to the battle against the tobacco epidemic. The Act brought together a number of legal instruments and replaced two existing Acts, the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act 1978 and the Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) Act 1988 and incorporated certain provisions of the Government's policy, Towards a Tobacco Free Society. Strong legislative measures are an important public health instrument in countering the tobacco threat.
The main provisions contained in the Act are as follows — a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, including in-store advertising and displays, and on all forms of sponsorship by the tobacco industry; registration of tobacco retailers and tougher penalties for those convicted of under age sales; a ban on retail sales of packs of cigarettes of less than 20; tighter controls on sale of tobacco products from vending machines; a ban on the sale of confectioneries, normally intended for children, which resemble a tobacco product; public disclosure of all aspects of tobacco including toxicity and addiction; and a prohibition on the smoking of tobacco products in the enclosed workplace with limited exceptions.
The tobacco industry and other related trades commenced legal challenges to the Public Health (Tobacco) Act in June 2002. During the judicial hearings, which involved three sets of proceedings, the court was advised by the State of a problem in regard to a requirement to notify the EU Commission at Bill stage of some of the measures enacted to comply with two EU Directives 98/34/EC and 98/48/EC. These directives, known as the transparency-technical standards directives, require draft technical regulations to be notified to the EU Commission and to other member states in advance of their adoption.
The procedure is intended to provide transparency and control with regard to technical regulations which impose binding legal rules, regulating the characteristics required of a product such as levels of quality, performance, safety or dimensions, including the requirements applicable to the product as regards the name under which the product is sold, terminology, symbols, testing and test methods, packaging, marking or labelling and conformity assessment procedures. National measures of this nature could create unjustified barriers to trade between member states. Their notification in draft form and the subsequent evaluation of their content in the course of the procedure help to diminish this risk.
The procedure was not followed at Bill stage with the 2002 Act and, as a result, 14 of the 53 sections of the Act are affected. These sections relate mainly to the sale and marketing of tobacco products. However, other important aspects of the Act such as the establishment of the Office of Tobacco Control and the power to regulate smoking in the workplace remain in place.
As the Act is a public health measure, it was considered originally that it was not notifiable to the Commission as a technical regulation. It was also considered that the requirement to introduce commencement orders in the case of the Act would allow for notification of the commencement order in draft form, thereby meeting the requirements of the transparency directives.
Following correspondence and discussions with EU Commission officials on this matter and having obtained legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General, it became clear that any attempt to commence the affected sections would result in considerable uncertainty as to the enforceability of the sections in question. The court was advised of the attempts made through the Commission to resolve the issue and each set of proceedings was discontinued. Accordingly, the Minister decided that the quickest and most appropriate way of resolving the issue was to repeal the affected sections and to reintroduce them by way of a new Bill which would then be notified under the transparency procedure and, on completion of this procedure, would be re-enacted.
The Minister was advised by the Office of the Attorney General that with a view to assisting in the defence of any challenge brought to the re-enacted legislation, the amending Bill should be used as an opportunity to strengthen the Act in a number of areas. This is being done by, among other things, changing the Long Title of the Act to indicate that the Act is designed to give effect to as many of the EU and international measures as have been adopted at that date. The re-enacted legislation will include those EU measures relating to tobacco products to be transposed into national law.
The Minister was also advised by the Office of the Attorney General that the provisions for smoke-free workplaces should be introduced by means of primary legislation — that is by way of a Bill — rather than by means of secondary legislation, namely regulations. This will strengthen the Bill in the context of a possible legal challenge.
Since the enactment of the legislation, there have been many positive developments at European and global level. Directive No. 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and Council was introduced on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of member states concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products. Among other provisions, the directive requires larger and more visible and effective health warnings on cigarette packs and provides for member states to make use of graphic warnings. The EU has also introduced Directive No. 2003/33/EC on the approximation of those laws, regulations and administrative provisions of member states which prohibit tobacco advertising and related sponsorship. The effect of the directive will be to deny the tobacco industry direct access to the public, particularly young persons, through print and other media. While Ireland has imposed a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship since July 2000, we have always recognised the need for strong measures at EU level in the area of advertising of tobacco products and sponsorship by tobacco companies.
A Council recommendation on the prevention of smoking and initiatives to improve tobacco control was introduced on 2 December 2002 against a background of 500,000 smoking deaths annually in the European Union. There is concern among member states at the numbers of adolescents and children who continue to take up smoking. Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable death in the European Union. The Council recommends that member states adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to reduce morbidity and mortality from tobacco. Reports on the measures taken should be provided to the Council.
The World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control was adopted at Geneva on 21 May 2003. This historic and ground-breaking international treaty seeks to protect many millions around the world from the devastating impact of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. The treaty addresses all aspects of tobacco control, including the traditional health interventions on advertising and sponsorship, passive smoking and retail licensing. It addresses economic and trade issues including taxation policy, international trade and smuggling. Other elements of the convention include product specification and issues of compensation and liability.
Ireland has always advocated strong international tobacco controls. Many countries have already signed the WHO convention including, in September of 2003, the Minister for Health and Children on behalf of Ireland. The convention will make a significant contribution to the protection of future generations from the predatory practices of the global tobacco industry.
The section of the legislation dealing with indirect advertising is being removed as the EU directive on the advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products does not cover indirect advertising. Indirect advertising is often referred to as "brand stretching". The removal of the section will serve to insulate the Act from further legal challenge. The provision on the prohibition of smoking of tobacco products in specified places is being amended to include the principles and policies which will inform the making of regulations under the relevant section.
During the Irish Presidency of the European Union, a major conference on tobacco control will be held in the mid-west region. Ireland has always recognised the need for a strong, unified EU approach to tobacco control and health. Many developing countries look to the European Union to initiate strong measures in this vital area of public health. The Irish Presidency is an opportunity to make further developments in this regard.
Much has been achieved to reduce the incidence of smoking in our population. Through a combination of measures, which included legislation, regulation, health promotion and education, we were able to achieve in 2002 the 27% level for 2002 reported in last year's SLÁN survey. More recent surveys conducted by the Office of Tobacco Control indicate that smoking levels have dropped to almost 25%. This is welcome news. The reduction achieved will have many benefits, particularly for future generations which will come to accept non-smoking as the social norm.
The smoke-free workplace provisions in the Bill will come into force from 29 March 2004. The primary purpose of the "smoke-free at work" initiative is to protect workers and the public from exposure to harmful, toxic tobacco smoke. The "smoke-free at work" initiative is based on emphatic independent advice from experts. The report, Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace, published in January 2003, was commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority. It was prepared by an independent expert scientific group. The report reaches blunt conclusions about the risks posed to health by tobacco smoke and the measures necessary to protect employees.
The facts speak for themselves. Second-hand tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems. Employees require protection from exposure to second-hand smoke at work and current ventilation technology is ineffective at removing the risk to health. Legislative measures are required to protect workers from the adverse effects of exposure. A national public information campaign, "smoke-free at work", is under way across television, radio and print media. A series of print materials for workplaces, employees and the general public is now available on-line at the new "smoke-free at work" website. The campaign will provide guidance and information to all sectors of society in preparation for 29 March. Information will also be available on-line from the websites of the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority.
Monitoring of compliance with the smoke-free requirements in the food and hospitality sectors will be the responsibility of officers of the health boards and the Office of Tobacco Control. Health boards are in the process of filling vacancies in their established environmental health officer complements in the tobacco control area. The emphasis of the campaign will be on compliance building and harnessing widespread public support for a smoke-free environment.
Adapting to the new measures will require some adjustment, particularly for those in workplaces which have not benefited from the existing statutory controls on the smoking of tobacco products. I am confident people will adjust as they did when cinemas, theatres, hair-dressing salons, aeroplanes and numerous other settings became smoke-free. The trade union movement is strongly supportive and I am encouraged by the willingness employers' organisations in various sectors have demonstrated in recommending that their members comply with the new measures. Most people are law abiding and responsible. I expect the vast majority of employers, employees and members of the public will respect these important new public health measures.
Our success in improving health nationally is linked to further reducing the level of tobacco use. In particular, this involves preventing young persons starting to smoke. If the incidence of tobacco use can be reduced further, we can make considerable progress towards a tobacco-free and healthier society. No matter how comprehensive, legislation alone cannot create and sustain the environment necessary to prevent people starting to smoke or assist those who have already started to quit. Our anti-tobacco strategy will be multi-faceted. It will contain strong legislative controls and effective enforcement powers. It will include a fiscal element and the supports required by smokers to quit.
The implementation of our comprehensive strategy will, in time, effect the necessary attitudinal changes in society to tobacco consumption. Attitudinal changes will be followed by the necessary behavioural changes. We owe it to ourselves, the younger generation, and, indeed, future generations to ensure we win the war on tobacco. We must ensure that the children and young people of today do not become future victims of the tobacco industry by being induced to smoke tobacco products or through exposure to and inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke. I commend the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2003 to the House.