Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2010: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Will the Minister of State give some indication of how the transfer will take place and how the work of the Office of Tobacco Control will be integrated in the HSE? Will it be a separate section with the same personnel and director?

Regarding the approach taken in the budget, which is relevant, research by the Office of Tobacco Control has always suggested price is the key determinant of whether people stop smoking. I appreciate, as the Minister of State says, that the price of cigarettes in Ireland is the highest in the world. However, if price is the main deterrent, why was there no increase in the budget? I agree with Senator Ó Brolcháin that the rate of inflation is a factor. Was there lobbying by the tobacco industry and how much did it use the argument about smuggling to deter the Government from announcing an increase? It would be helpful if the Minister of State informed us of the Government's attitude and thinking because it is relevant. We are talking about prevention, the work of the Office of Tobacco Control and how it will be continued in its new incarnation in the HSE. At the time this is happening, the key action — increasing the price of cigarettes — was not taken in the budget. This is a relevant point to raise in the discussion of this section.

Section 3 refers to the transfer of functions and provides for the preparation and implementation of the plan for the national co-ordination of the activities of the Office of Tobacco Control and the HSE in respect of the Bill. It provides that the office shall establish a body, to be known as the Tobacco Free Council, which was never established by it. Its role was to be available to the office for consultation. Having regard to the fact that the Office of Tobacco Control is to be merged with the HSE and in the broader context of greater streamlining of structures, the proposed role of the Tobacco Free Council can be incorporated in an advisory panel and may be established now.

Section 15 of the Health Act 2004 provides for the HSE board to establish committees to assist in the performance of its functions. Section 44 of the Act provides that the Minister may direct the executive to establish an advisory panel for a specific purpose. Between the Department of Health and Children, the Office of Tobacco Control and the HSE, there has been a high level steering group established to oversee the merger. Three staff of the Office of Tobacco Control and a sum of €1.5 million will be transferred to the HSE. All of the core functions will be transferred.

The question of a price increase mentioned by Senator Fitzgerald is a matter for the Department of Finance. As Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, I was lobbied by ASH Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society and passed on their representations. At a recent press conference the Minister for Health and Children referred to research on price which was passed on to the Minister for Finance.

What about lobbying by tobacco companies and the industry?

I am not sure if there was lobbying by the industry. Research points to the law of diminishing returns in terms of the tax take. I am not sure what other research findings or details were included in the document.

The Minister of State talked about the council and an advisory panel. Is she suggesting the advisory panel is in place to assist with the merger and that a new council has been or will be set up? Will she provide the details on who will be members of the council? Are the advisory panel and the council separate?

The high level steering group comprising representatives of the Office of Tobacco Control, the HSE and the Department of Health and Children has been established to oversee the merger. All of the functions of the office are to be transferred to the HSE on commencement of the Act, with the exception of those I mentioned. I made a mistake and wish to correct it. The exceptions include the functions of preparation and implementation of a plan for the co-ordination nationally of the activities of the office and HSE in respect of the Act. That is no longer necessary. Section 22 refers to the establishment of the Tobacco Free Council. Three staff members of the Office of Tobacco Control, its core functions and a sum of €1.5 million are being transferred.

Will the Minister of State clarify her comments on the strategy to be pursued? Will responsibility for the strategy remain in the section?

It is being transferred with it.

The Minister of State made a reference to the exclusion of the strategy.

Section 15 of the Health Act provides that the HSE board can establish committees to assist in the performance of its functions. Section 44 of the Act provides that the Minister may direct the HSE to establish an advisory panel for a specific purpose. If it is decided to set up an advisory panel on tobacco control issues, such a panel can be established under one of the sections.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

What is the position on the contracts for the offices being rented? Has work on the contract finished or are the offices still available? Does the Minister of State have any information? One of the key issues in rationalisation, if we are trying to cut costs, is knowing what will happen to premises.

The premises will be available until the end of next year.

Will rent continue to be paid until then?

A reduced rate has been negotiated.

What is the new rate for the year?

We will check.

This is one of the key issues that will arise in rationalisation. If one is serious about reducing costs, one must examine the contracts entered into and the outstanding costs.

We will seek information on the reduced rate to be paid.

I presume the body will remain in place until the end of 2011 because there is probably a lease or contract in place that cannot be broken. I am pleased to hear it is at a reduced rent but it would be great if it could be used for something else. One cannot walk away from a contract or lease.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 6
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

When the Office of Tobacco Control had a separate office, the key priority was its specific remit. It is critical that the remit of the office is retained despite the fact that the office will be integrated. What assurances can the Minister of State provide to the House that its remit will be retained? What priority is the issue receiving at the moment? We can see the work that has been done. This country has been a world leader in tobacco control. Where does the Minister of State envisage the strategy going in terms of outcome and research on the number of people who are smoking, especially given the prevalence of smoking among young women who are taking up smoking and who continue to smoke? What does the research indicate should be our focus? I have outlined a few areas that should be a priority. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister of State were to outline where the issue stands on her list of priorities and what action she intends taking or has taken. Where does tobacco control stand among the health promotion priorities in the country?

I appreciate Senator Fitzgerald's concern. The office is being subsumed into the Health Service Executive and she is afraid it will be lost. I have met staff of the Office of Tobacco Control on many occasions. They are very committed. The chairperson has now welcomed the move. Initially, there was concern along the lines expressed by Senator Fitzgerald, which I shared, that the office could be lost. The staff are happy and they have been assured of my full support in the continuance of their good work. The issue is a high priority for me. We will see success based on the initiatives that have been introduced. I feel strongly about the issue and I have used all possible opportunities to engage with younger people, rather than lecture them, on what they consider works well in terms of helping them not to start smoking in the first place and to give it up if they have started.

What does the Minister of State envisage the budget to be? I have referred to the cutbacks to the smoking cessation programmes. How much threat is there to the budget and what has been the level of cutbacks to the programme?

I do not know what level of cutbacks have been made. The health promotion budget has remained sound in general. The Office of Tobacco Control is bringing with it the budget of €1.5 million. As far as I am aware the health promotion budget has remained quite sound generally.

What is the Minister of State's response to the cuts to the smoking cessation programmes?

It is a matter of trying to get more for less. We are concerned that we would get as much information out as we can in terms of advertising to get the message across to people.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 7 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 12
Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

It is important we would get the final report on the activities of the office as soon as possible, prior to the transfer. I look forward to reading about the challenges in this area, what point the work has reached and the challenges for the future. I have outlined that they are fairly substantial both nationally and internationally. Perhaps the Minister of State would indicate when the report will be laid before the House.

The Health Service Executive is required to have the final report of the activities of the office submitted to the Minister within one year of the commencement of the Act. The legislation provides also for the Minister to lay copies of the report before each House of the Oireachtas.

A year is excessive. The report should be made within a maximum of three months given that we are transferring the agency into the Health Service Executive and its operation is changing from being a separate office to having a subsumed role within the Department. It would be important to read an account of the office's activities and future priorities.

The report must be submitted within one year. That is the maximum amount of time it can take.

I hope the Minister of State will push to get it fairly soon.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 13 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.