I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. I call Senator Reilly.
Smoking Ban: Motion
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Health to take measures via amending legislation or issue directions via a statutory instrument to ban smoking in areas where food is consumed, including in outdoor areas.
Would the Chair be kind enough to let me know when I have a minute left?
I certainly will.
I thank the Chair. I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad Chamber and I thank her and her Cabinet colleagues for supporting the proposal to ban smoking anywhere food is served, including outdoors.
I begin with the purpose of the motion and the rationale behind it. The purpose of the motion is to encourage the Minister to bring in legislation, either by way of a statutory instrument or primary legislation, to ban smoking outdoors where food is served. The rationale behind this is that on the good days we do get, people like to enjoy a meal outdoors and with modern technology in terms of heating, etc., it is more pleasurable to do that in this country. People like to eat with their families. A meal is a social event and it is something that as a society we would all agree that families should enjoy together.
In the first instance, those of us who do not smoke, do not wish to be subjected to second-hand smoke from people near at hand when we are eating a meal. While the evidence for the damage that second-hand smoke does in an enclosed space is well known, it is still factually correct to state that second-hand smoke, even outdoors, represents a health hazard. Therefore, why would people who wish to enjoy a meal in a smoke-free environment, want to have that meal ruined by smoke and by risking their health?
The third element of this, which I believe is very important, is to denormalise smoking. This is about protecting our children. We know from surveys that 78% of smokers start smoking under the age of 18. To those who would accuse us of being a nanny state and argue that we should leave people a choice, I ask them what choice one can exercise when one is already addicted by the age of 18. The answer to that is extremely limited. This is about protecting our children from experiencing smoke, from seeing smoking as a normal habit and being exposed to that habit.
To recap on all the things that have been done over the years: there was the ban on smoking in the workplace; the banning of sales of one and two cigarettes to packs of five, ten and now 20; the ban on advertising; the ban on point of sale advertising; and the battle we had as a nation being threatened by multinational tobacco companies for bringing in plain packaging.
Not one of these things on its own succeeds in reducing smoking to the level we want to reduce it to in this country. It is a combination and this is yet another step towards that. If we can create a scenario where children do not know about smoking, do not experience smoking, do not see smoking as being remotely normal and are educated on the harm and damage it does, I believe they will not take it up. When we were dealing with plain packaging I asked the Irish Cancer Society to do a study, which it did. We already had an advertisement showing how young children were fascinated by the packets as they were shiny and nice. They made them want to hold them and have them and then the cancer society showed them the plain packs. The children recoiled in horror and wondered why anyone would want to smoke, seeing these pictures of rotting lungs, amputated limbs and emaciated bodies of people dying from cancer, secondary to smoking. That is the rationale behind the motion.
There is precedent for this. Yet again Australia has led the way, but countries like Canada and certain states in the United States have brought in laws to outlaw smoking where food is served outdoors. In New South Wales there is a no smoking in commercial outdoor dining areas Bill. I talked about any seated dining area, within 4 m of a seated dining area on a licensed premises or within 10 m of a food fair stall. We are not doing something completely new here. It is new in Europe for sure. We led the way in Europe with plain packaging and we should lead the way with this too. I have to compliment the Department of Health and the team on all the work they have done on this issue. The tobacco unit is a small unit but it is highly motivated and very effective.
I do not believe any conversation on tobacco can be complete without mentioning that 6,000 Irish men and women die every year as a direct result of this product. It is the only product that is legal, that we know of, that when used as directed by the manufacturer will kill one in two of its habitual users prematurely.
In the European region, 1.6 million deaths related to smoking occur every year and second-hand smoke causes 890,000 premature deaths globally every year.
All of the statistics I have mentioned might just seem like figures, so I want to impress upon people that 6,000 families in this country have gone through the emotional trauma of losing a loved one. They might also have lost their households' main income earners, leaving them to face severe financial stress for many years to come and, especially in the case of children, disadvantage. We must do everything in our power to help smokers quit and to protect our children from ever taking up this killer habit.
I was warned in the past not to refer to the tobacco industry as "evil". As I have said many times, however, I struggle to find another term that can adequately describe an industry that produces a product despite knowing its killer effect and addictive nature. I believe the industry targets our children. Once someone is addicted, getting off smoking again is a long battle. The industry then moves on to the next cohort. If we can protect our children, this habit will die out.
As Minister for Health, I had the pleasure of launching the separate Tobacco Free Ireland and Healthy Ireland plans. It was great to attend international meetings and be able to produce a picture of the entire Cabinet, bar one member who could not be present, holding up that document. It was a cross-Government initiative to create a healthy society and our Tobacco Free Ireland document is an integral part of that.
I call on people to consider the current situation in the health service. We know the challenges that we face. I have seen some comments on social media to the effect that we should be fixing the service instead of annoying smokers and retailers on this issue. I have the following to say in response. While we try to have a health service that looks after those who are ill now, we would be derelict in our duty if we were not to consider the causes of those illnesses and take action to prevent them in future. I ask the House to imagine an Ireland where no one smoked or abused alcohol and everyone achieved a BMI under 30, if not under 25. What number of beds would we then need in our health service? The greatest challenge facing the western world today is not infection, as it used to be, but non-communicable diseases, lifestyle issues, diabetes and chronic obstructive airways.
When we discuss smoking, tobacco's ill effects and the cancers it causes of the lung, throat, oropharynx, mouth and stomach, never mind the other cancers it is associated with, we should also consider the damage it does to people's lungs such that, in their last ten or 20 years, they find themselves disadvantaged, unable to breathe, often limited to living at home, going out with oxygen cylinders and attached to machines at night to help them breathe. As such, this is also a quality of life issue. It is not just the years one lives, but the quality of those years as well. Consider the heart attacks, strokes and impact on the quality of life for people who had a stroke, as my father did. He was left blind for the last 14 years of his life due to smoking. My brother, who was 60, died of lung cancer. Despite being a public health doctor, he was unable to quit the habit. More recently, my 62 year old brother-in-law, a plumber, is gone due to smoking and lung cancer.
For me, this is personal. It is also professional, given all the suffering I have seen as a doctor. For me as a politician, it must be one of our main political ambitions to create a tobacco-free society by 2025. By that I mean a prevalence of smoking of less than 5%. We are winning, given that recent surveys have shown that fewer and fewer people between the ages of 12 and 17 years are smoking and that awareness is greater. It is up to us to keep that fight going.
The Department is working on an initiative of which I will be supportive, that being, the licensing of tobacco outlets. I would love to see large retail outfits like Tesco, SuperValu and Dunnes Stores stop selling cigarettes when they are supposed to be a provider of food, nourishment and nutritional goods. Someone should take the lead and stop selling. I want to end the practice of a single licence covering all of a retailer's outlets. Each outlet should need a licence and transgressions on that licence should be punishable by fines of at least €5,000 and the loss of the outlet's right to sell tobacco for a year. These would be real sanctions and I hope the Department will be able to progress them soon.
I thank the Minister of State for attending and the Cabinet and my colleagues in Fine Gael for their support. I hope that this motion passes and I look forward to the Department introducing a law to support it.
I second the motion.
It is important to recognise that our country has an extraordinary record of leadership when it comes to tobacco control. A previous Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin, introduced the smoking ban. When Senator Reilly was Minister for Health, he introduced a suite of measures that transformed societal attitudes in terms of how we tolerated, viewed and used tobacco. In our country today, we would be aghast if someone in our company was to strike up a match and light a cigarette at a social gathering. This is not the nanny state interfering. It is not that we want to make it difficult for proprietors and owners of restaurants and bars. As Senator Reilly stated, it is about transforming the lives and health of our citizens.
We were the first to introduce the workplace smoking ban. We then tackled plain packaging. As Members of the Oireachtas in tandem with the Department of Health, and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and congratulate her on her tenure to date in the Department, we are trying to create a smoke-free Ireland. That means only 5% of our population smoking by 2025. To achieve that, we need leadership from politicians. The Minister of State has demonstrated bravery in her brief over the national drugs strategy and injection centres. As Minister, Senator Reilly stood up to big tobacco. To be fair, Deputy Micheál Martin did the same. I chaired the health committee while the Minister of State, then just a Deputy, was a member of it. We sat through the pre-legislative scrutiny phase of the plain packaging Bill.
This is about protecting people, including children, and denormalising tobacco. Our policy is working, given that the number of people engaged in smoking has declined.
We still have a significant way to go but the number of people smoking has declined. Part of our difficulty is that there is a still a sense of awe among some young people and hopefully plain packaging will eliminate some of that. The elimination of advertising is aimed at reducing the visibility of cigarettes and reducing the harmful effects of smoking.
It has been demonstrated over time that pricing has had an impact. The other two issues are visibility and availability. We must lessen the appeal of smoking. Cigarettes are a risk to health. As Senator O'Reilly said, 78% of smokers started smoking before turning 18. We must decrease the appeal of smoking to young people. Our public health policy must be about decreasing the appeal, de-normalisation and ensuring a smoke-free environment for all.
It is estimated that between 19% and 22% of our population still smokes, which is a considerable number of people. If we are to get to 5% by 2025, we need to take measures over and above those we have already taken and that is what the motion before us tonight aims to do. Approximately 5,000 people die every year from tobacco related illnesses and diseases. So many lives are lost and so many families are bereaved because of smoking. In terms of economics, the effects of tobacco and smoking cost the State approximately €300 million per year.
Some Members have expressed concern about what this motion is trying to achieve. We are not trying to put people out of business or to stop people enjoying themselves. We are trying to ensure that our public health policy includes a strong suite of proposals and measures that will tackle the issue for once and for all. Senator Reilly referenced obesity too but this is not just about economics, bed nights or the cost to the State; it is also about saving lives. It is about ensuring a societal change in the way we view our relationship with tobacco. I commend the work of former Senators van Turnhout and Crown who submitted motions and Bills previously to prohibit smoking in cars and in playgrounds. Why is it that we all now find it abhorrent to have people smoking in our company, in our houses or our cars? Why is it now the case that people ask others if it is okay for them to smoke and if the answer is "No", they go outside? It is because we have changed our attitude. Those of us who are of a certain age will remember the Marlboro man and the advertisements associated with him but it is no longer cool to smoke. We should make that very clear to the young people who are being targeted by the tobacco companies in a variety of ways.
As legislators, we have a duty of care. We cannot be negligent or passive but must work to bring about a healthier Ireland. We service our cars, our washing machines and our boilers. We install radon meters and smoke alarms in our houses. There is a clarion call for us as a people to recognise that smoking kills. If one talks to people who have COPD or other respiratory illnesses as a consequence of smoking, they will say that they wish they could turn the clock back.
The motion before the House tonight is sensible and will add to the suite of measures that is already in place. I thank Senator Reilly for his leadership and hope that the House will support the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and her officials to the House this evening for this very important debate. I congratulate Senator Reilly and his Fine Gael colleagues on tabling this motion, which Fianna Fáil will be supporting fully. That said, it would be important to see the detail of any proposed legislation or regulation which would allow the Minister to take measures to ban smoking in areas where food is consumed, including in outdoor areas, but the general idea behind this motion is one with which we fully agree.
An average of 16 people die each day from the effects of smoking, tobacco related cancer or other illnesses. More than 81,000 hospital bed days are taken up each year treating people with preventable cancer arising specifically from smoking. The estimated cost to the healthcare system of smoking is more than €500 million per annum, yet there are still organisations under the remit of Government Departments that facilitate tobacco company investments. I know Senator Reilly agrees that this beggars belief and flies in the face of the aim of achieving a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025, but it is still happening today. Last October, my party colleague Senator Swanick, who sends his apologies that he could not be here this evening, spoke of his attempts to bring an end to investment in tobacco companies by the Courts Service. The response he received effectively said that the service would not invest in the tobacco industry if the Oireachtas made it illegal to do so. Basically, there is no law prohibiting the service from investing in the tobacco industry and therefore, it is fine for it to do so. Senator Swanick has a Bill before the House which aims to prohibit such investment and I hope that when the time comes he will be supported in his endeavours. I just wanted to flag that because tobacco control is an issue which everybody in this House and this country takes very seriously.
I am very pleased that Ireland has a very strong tradition in this area. As Senator Buttimer pointed out, my party leader and the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin, introduced a ban on smoking in public areas and many workplaces. Many countries throughout the world have followed Ireland's course and introduced similar measures. As the saying goes, imitation is the best form of flattery and that is something of which we can be very proud as a people.
The way to tackle sustained tobacco use is through education, an integrated approach by various Departments and from the bottom up. When I was going to school in the 1980s, a major emphasis was placed on education around tobacco and the difficulties it caused for peoples' health. Significant resources were put into it. At that time more than half of my classmates smoked but after a very short period, only two out of 35 continued to smoke. That reduction was a direct result of the education programme that was put in place at the time.
I firmly believe that if we place a real emphasis on educational material, we can transmit a message to young people that will help them to understand the harmful effects that can be caused by tobacco and cigarettes. Unfortunately, significant numbers of young people are beginning to smoke again. There is a need for an educational programme that focuses on the composition of cigarettes, indicates that cigarettes contain poison and shows young people the relevant images. I commend Senator Reilly and his colleagues, as I have done on other occasions, on the work they did on plain cigarette packaging. They faced down the might of the tobacco industry when it threatened to take us on as a nation. I repeat that if we can avail of every possible occasion to tell young people in schools and on social media about the dangers and effects of smoking, the horrific damage it does to people and the deaths it causes, we can make huge inroads.
I agree with what Senator Buttimer said about availability, visibility and advertising. We should be tackling such areas as well. I appreciate that this proposal might not be popular with some businesses and some people who like to smoke outside restaurants. I remind the House that we experienced huge difficulty in getting the initial legislation through over a decade ago, but it was seen through because it was backed politically. It has worked and it has saved lives. The idea of going into a pub that is filled with cigarette smoke is unthinkable now. It was lunacy that we did so in the past. When we travel nowadays to countries that continue to allow smoking in their bars and restaurants, we cannot get out of such places quickly enough because we realise the damage that is done by inhaling smoke in such environments. I will never know how we lived with it for so long. I congratulate Senator Reilly. We will support his motion fully. I hope the necessary legislation or regulations will be introduced soon so that we can look at exactly what they mean for businesses and set out the appropriate actions they need to take. I repeat that we will support this proposal fully.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit le haghaidh na díospóireachta seo. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge, "is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte". The equivalent English-language phrase is "your health is your wealth". I think that is a good guiding ethos as we make our way through this debate and, I hope, as we take action on foot of it. I commend Senator Reilly on bringing this motion before the House. I do not doubt his commitment to this issue and his passion for the health and well-being of people across the State. I will not repeat what he said, other than to agree that there should be a particular focus on the clear and acute damage that is caused by smoking. As a society, as communities and as families, we are all too aware of the harm caused by smoking and by second-hand smoke.
Sinn Féin welcomes this motion and will support it today. It has been acknowledged that this jurisdiction was the first place in the world to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces and in workplaces. We should be very proud of the lead we took in protecting non-smokers, including children, from second-hand smoke. As a society, we sent a message that smoking is not something we wish for our citizens to be involved in. This motion is a timely reminder that we should be still alert to that issue and should advance that ethos. When my colleague, Michelle O'Neill, served as Minister of Health in the North, she led on a piece of work that involved banning smoking in cars when children are present.
My colleague in the European Parliament, Lynn Boylan, is fighting at EU level to ensure the complete separation of the tobacco industry and EU tobacco regulation. In particular, she has been working hard to close a loophole in the EU tobacco products directive. While I do not intend to get into the major detail of the loophole, I will say that as it stands, it allows solution providers to the illicit tobacco industry to bypass independence criteria by means of subcontracting. I do not need to tell the Minister of State that this is very dangerous. The problem and the solution need to be completely separate. The tobacco industry should have no influence when an effective tracking and tracing system is being put in place. I commend Lynn Boylan MEP on her initiative.
As the Minister of State can see, Sinn Féin is serious about this issue. I acknowledge that all of my colleagues from other parties are serious about it too. We are happy to support this motion as another step towards a healthier Ireland. The Government's tobacco-free Ireland policy was launched in October 2013. It set as a target for Ireland that we would have a smoking prevalence rate of less than 5% by 2025. The effect of this would be to make the State a tobacco-free society. Will the Minister of State update the House on the progress being made by the Government in respect of this target? Does she envisage the proposed extension of the smoking ban will help us to achieve the target?
I would like to discuss the detail of this proposal. It is important to start a discussion now on how this ban will work in reality. For example, we need to reflect on what are considered to be the boundaries that denote what is considered to be "outdoors". How do we imagine that places like parks and other outdoor recreational areas will be monitored? Will they be covered by this measure? Clearly, we all want this motion to be passed. The more solid proposals we can bring to the Minister from this House, the quicker and more efficiently this motion can be brought towards legislation.
The important issues faced by small business owners in this regard also deserve to be considered. Will the owner of a small business like a restaurant or a café that has an outdoor area where food is consumed have to separate off an additional smoking area? How will this be financed? Will small businesses receive support to make such changes? While I do not believe the costs possibly associated with this proposal should trump the public health benefits of banning smoking outdoors, I suggest it would be wise to consider supporting small and medium sized enterprises, just as we are doing under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, so that such enterprises receive clear instructions, guidance and support with regard to the implementation of this change when legislation is ultimately in place, as we hope it will be. Small business owners do not deserve to be subjected to second-hand smoke in their own businesses. They cannot expect to carry the burdens of our decisions alone. I ask the Minister of State to be mindful of that point. I know she is and she will be as we move forward.
I am happy to speak in support of this motion on behalf of my party. We gladly welcome any steps that help to bring about a healthier, tobacco-free Ireland. Reducing the harm caused by second-hand smoke is vital in that regard. Our job here is to work out the details, to be innovative and to propose workable solutions to this and other issues. As colleagues have said, we have been innovative and creative and we have taken a lead. This is another opportunity to do that as we move forward. Along with my party colleagues, I look forward to seeing the legislation, in the form of statutory instruments, that will be introduced by the Minister to give effect to this motion. We will work proactively with all of our colleagues and with the Government to ensure the finer details of this proposal are worked out for the betterment of all citizens.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I would like to address Senator Reilly as "Dr. Reilly" because he is talking about health today. I commend him on the introduction of this motion. I am one of the people about whom he spoke. I started to smoke at the age of 12. I walked to school so that I would have 3p to buy two cigarettes at the shop beside the school. By the time I was 15, I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day because I was working. By the time I was 50, I was lying in a coronary unit in St. Vincent's Hospital because my coronary artery disease had finally caught up with me. One is never clear of the disgusting habit of smoking. To this day, when I am overseas and I walk into a shop and see a nice shiny packet of cigarettes, I frequently think "maybe I should do it just this once". There is something about cigarettes. I never liked them, even when I smoked them. I smoked 100 a day at one point.
When Senator Reilly spoke earlier about his father and his brother, he brought home to me memories of some of my relations.
I do not believe there is a Member who does not have a relative who has died as a result of smoking. A great sadness for me, having left education to come into the Seanad, was the number of young people, particularly young girls, who used to stand outside my college smoking during every break. There is something terribly wrong about that.
The Minister of State hit the nail on the head when she spoke earlier. The companies that sell this product know they are selling a product that kills. They know they are selling a product that does untold damage to the physical system that keeps us running, yet they continue to do it. There have been class actions against them and so on and still they do it.
When I am on holiday I often think I will smoke a cigarette but the one thing that stops me are the images on the packages. When I go into a shop and see the packages I think, "Maybe just this time", but then I look up and see a disgusting image of a rotting lung or whatever and I say, "No, that is not for me; I am walking away". The important point is that not a day goes by without me thinking that I would like a cigarette. I last smoked in 2000. The Minister of State spoke about the addictive nature of it and the difficulty in giving up cigarettes. I have had to kick the habit three times in my life and I never again want to suffer what it takes to do that.
I want to add another aspect to the discussion that I would like the Minister of State to consider, that is, this new addiction of vaping, which I find equally repulsive. That we have not banned vaping is a matter of grave concern for me. One goes into places now and people are not smoking but they are blowing something in one's face. That is wrong.
One of the abiding memories I have of my time in St. Vincent's hospital when I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease was a man lying in the bed beside me who had lost both legs. He was in his 80s, and every morning he would not lie still until the staff came in, put him in a wheelchair and brought him out to the front of the hospital so he could have a smoke. That is the habit. This man knew that smoking was doing terminal damage to him yet he had to have a smoke first thing every morning. I remember my poor father, God be good to him. The thumb, index finger and middle finger of both his hands were totally black as a result of smoking.
I will support anything the Minister of State can do to prevent people smoking, highlight it as the disgusting habit it is and shut down the cabinets in every shop that sells them. I agree with Senator Reilly that the likes of Tesco, Dunnes and the various other chain supermarkets should not be selling a product that kills. I commend Senator Reilly, a former Minister for Health, and those who came before him on introducing the smoking ban in this country. We still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, cigarettes are being sold to young people today as the new way to keep slim. Somebody needs to tell them that they may be slim on the outside, and I do not believe that works, but they should think about the damage they are doing on the inside.
I have family members in my age group who dropped dead because of coronary artery disease. For some peculiar reason, we do not show symptoms. The top of my left descending artery was 98% blocked and I was able to pass every stress test and blood test. It was found because a doctor said he was not happy and he needed to have a look inside where they found the blockage. I would have joined a long list of Craughwells who passed on to the next life as a result of smoking because we all smoked from a young age. I am 100% behind anything the Minister of State can do to support the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. We know each other a very long time. Senator Reilly, the Minister of State and myself served in the Eastern Regional Health Authority. We were there at the start of it and at the time of its demise, but that is another story.
I am very pleased to see this motion brought forward by Senator James Reilly, which has a great deal of support. There is no doubt that many more names are in support of it. We cannot say we have ever gone beyond the normalisation of smoking. Bringing in the smoking ban in 2004 was the first major arresting of the idea that smoking is just something people do.
Introducing measures now will make us consider that this is not just about people smoking indoors but about smoking in areas where people are eating food. It is significant that we have taken the issue from smoking indoors to smoking outdoors also. This is a measured initiative to address that problem. It is an enabling motion which puts the Minister in poll position to move on and take action by way of a statutory instrument or whatever. That is important.
People often talk about their right to this and that, but we need to be clear that in a civilised community rights have to work within the notion of the common good. It is for the common good that we would extinguish smoking. Public health has to trump my wishes. However, I am sure that the great majority of people who smoke wish they had never picked up the first cigarette they smoked and find it horrendously difficulty to give them up. We just heard Senator Craughwell speak about making effort after effort and yet he still has the daily urge to smoke just one cigarette. We must continue to come down on the side of the public good.
We have to have sympathy for people who smoke. Equally, we have to continue implementing strong measures to encourage people not to start smoking and others to quit. It is important that is not seen in any sense as being anti-smokers. It is anti the dirty habit that kills people. Someone said long ago that they love the sinner but not the sin. We must have compassion for and give support to people who smoke.
On the normalisation of smoking, my mother smoked when I was a child. She was a seamstress. I can still see her sitting at the table with the sowing machine in front of the big window. Myself and my brother were captivated that she could smoke a cigarette without once taking it out of her mouth. Jim and I would look at her and try to figure out if the ash would drop. It did not. She would finish smoking the cigarette and deftly tip it into the ash tray, pick out another cigarette and light it from the previous one. That is a memory of my dear departed mother who paid the price for that, but there was no issue. This was a game for us. Will the ash fall off the cigarette or will she once again tip it into the ash tray and start smoking another? That is the demon of the normalisation of something that is very bad.
I was in Montenegro last October. A colleague of mine and I went out for dinner on the first night. We went into a lovely restaurant and I thought immediately there was something wrong, and when we looked around we saw a table where everyone was smoking.
Twenty years ago in Ireland there would have been nothing wrong and we would never have looked around. That is part of what we have achieved but we can never say it is achieved. We have to keep working at it. This is a practical measure. It is not a question of getting at people who smoke. They have a demon within that they dearly wish they did not have. Therefore we must make sure that the programmes to assist and encourage people go hand in hand with these measures.
I am very pleased to speak on this Bill. I commend my colleague Senator Reilly. I acknowledge his absolute passion for this topic and moreover for protecting people. That comes, I suppose, from being a doctor as his life revolves around looking after and protecting people. I commend his work.
This proposal to ban smoking where food is served will "de-normalise" the use of cancer-causing cigarettes. Senator Dolan spoke of how normal it was for him and his brother to watch their mother smoke. My mother smoked when I was a child and asked us as we were growing up to please not smoke. She said she did not know the terrible effect of smoking when she started and then she became addicted. Cigarettes are an addictive drug. It took her many years to give them up. As teenagers, of course, we knew better and it was cool to smoke so we laughed it off and smoked. I continued until I was pregnant with my first daughter. The smoking ban in pubs and restaurants stopped me ever going back to smoking. When I was pregnant I would say I could not wait for the day I had the baby and looked forward to a lovely cup of coffee and a cigarette. When she was born I did not do that because I was looking after her but when I went out for the first time without having a child with me I did not want to smoke because I would not go out on the street to smoke. We know the ban works.
As Senator Reilly said, no conversation about tobacco can begin without remembering the 6,000 men and women in this country who die prematurely because of the product. The situation is improving, however, because of the ban in restaurants and pubs and the plain packaging which Senator Reilly worked so hard to get. Although they are not supposed to smoke in a car with children I see people doing it and marvel at how a parent with a small child could do that.
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland's policy group on tobacco "strongly supports" this Bill. Dr. Des Cox, a paediatric respiratory consultant said this measure is important to reduce smoking: "Any level of exposure to tobacco smoke is unacceptable . . . . The developing lungs of children are particularly susceptible to damage from second-hand smoke ...". It is a no-brainer to take the next step and ban smoking in areas where people are eating. Nobody is forcing business owners to stop providing a smoking area for customers. It is the right of business people to do that if they so wish. It is much more important that we protect those people who want to eat out and do not want to inhale second-hand smoke. It is not just a question of the economic factors at play here in the way of hospital beds and days lost from work but of the emotional cost, the sadness and hardship that a family goes through when one of them gets cancer from smoking. I commend Senator Reilly on all the work he has done thus far and I am very proud to support his Private Member’s Bill.
I thank all the Senators who have spoken on this issue, Senators Reilly, Buttimer, Wilson, Ó Domhnaill, Coughlan, Dolan and McFadden. This issue affects all our lives whether personally or in our families or extended families. The Bill aims to protect our children. We can have no greater gift than our children and we should keep that in perspective when we speak about this.
Senator Reilly spoke about a small dedicated team from the Department of Health. It is behind me now and I commend its work. Since taking over this role I have learned much about what the Department does in general but particularly in respect of tobacco. The team has done a great deal of work at different stages on this legislation.
Senator Buttimer spoke about having the courage of one's convictions. If we have that we cannot go wrong with this Bill.
In answer to Senator Ó Domhnaill, we have reached a daily prevalence of 18% of the tobacco-free Ireland target and aim for 5% in 2025. A total of 8% of children smoke, compared with 22% in 2002. The message is getting through.
People told their personal stories. Senator Dolan spoke about his mother. I recall my mam and dad smoking. It was a time when smoking was normal in the home. As children we accepted it because we did not know any better. Now we do know better. If we had one thing to tell our children and grandchildren it would the statistics for the number of people who die every year from smoking tobacco. Senator Dolan called it a demon, and it is a demon. It is very hard for someone addicted to a substance to give it up. They are human beings and have for one reason or another taken up this addiction and we need to help rather than condemn them. That is a lesson I have learned particularly from the brief on the national drugs strategy.
I pass a maternity hospital every day on my way into work and I am still astonished at the number of women who are quite pregnant, standing outside, with a drip, smoking. Do they really understand the harm they are doing themselves and their unborn children? I know a great deal of work is being done in maternity hospitals across the country to put women in the right frame of mind around drinking and smoking when they are pregnant.
Second-hand smoking kills. We all know that and there are statistics to support that. I have never smoked but I used to sing with a band in pubs. There was so much smoke that we could not see the people in the audience. I wonder after inhaling all that smoke where I will be in a few months' time.
It is difficult to speak about this in connection with people who have a mental illness because sometimes they use smoking as a crutch. That is very sad but we do not have a ban on smoking in psychiatric hospitals and need to consider sectors of society where we can tolerate it for a certain reason.
This seed was planted a long time before I entered this office. I feel like someone in a relay race taking the baton, as I did with the national drugs strategy and the supervised injecting facilities. I am part of a team whose goal was to achieve what we have achieved in respect of tobacco and alcohol.
I was very privileged to be part of that team.
I know Senator Reilly. I sat at many board meetings with him in the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA. I think he was the first person I sat beside the night of my first meeting in Dr. Steevens' Hospital and I was like a little green cucumber, as it were, sitting there wondering why I was there, but while I was there I learned so much from Senator Reilly and still do. I thank him for the years of service he has given to the health and well-being of not just our children but all our citizens.
I thank the Senators for tabling this motion and giving me an opportunity to discuss this matter. They all know of the devastation that tobacco addiction has caused to people. More than 6,000 lives have been taken from us each year because of tobacco addiction. That is 6,000 preventable deaths every year. Unfortunately, the burden of disease, disability and premature death falls on the most disadvantaged in society. Aside from the tragic human and social cost of smoking, it is estimated to cost society €10.7 billion annually in healthcare, productivity and other costs.
It is because of this social and economic burden that the Government is committed to implementing the Tobacco Free Ireland policy. The policy sets a target for Ireland to be tobacco free by 2025. Tobacco Free Ireland addresses a range of tobacco control issues and interventions. It contains more than 60 recommendations, and I am pleased to say that we have successfully implemented a number of these. For example, last year I was delighted to sign the regulation that introduced the standardised or plain packaging in Ireland. I am happy to say that the standardised packages have started to appear on the market shelves in Ireland. I was in Bulgaria at the weekend at the World Health Organization speaking about our tobacco legislation and our alcohol legislation which we hope to bring through. I was astonished when I had an hour to walk around because I have not seen a packet of cigarettes in a shop window for a very long time, which is a good thing. I was very taken aback by being able to see them so openly displayed.
Legislation to ban smoking in cars where children are present is in operation. The Healthy Ireland national survey now collates annual data on smoking prevalence. The HSE operates a very effective smoking cessation campaign called QUIT and the excise duty on tobacco has increased significantly over the years in line with Tobacco Free Ireland. It was €3.65 for a packet of 20 smokes when I was away and here it is something like €12, so it shows we are going in the right way. These and past developments have placed Ireland at the forefront of tobacco control legislation in Europe. We are ranked second among 34 European countries in tobacco control initiatives. Ireland’s role as a world leader in tobacco control was recognised when the Department of Health was awarded the World Health Organization’s prestigious world no tobacco day award in 2017 for its achievements in the field of tobacco control. I am sure these developments were key to Ireland winning the bid to host the 18th world conference on tobacco and health which will be held in Dublin in 2021. This is the premier conference on tobacco related issues and attracts an international audience of approximately 2,500 delegates. The conference has not been held in a European city since 2003.
To maintain and enhance lreland's tobacco control work, a high-Ievel action plan for the Tobacco Free Ireland policy was developed. The action plan outlines the responsibilities, actions and timelines for implementation of the policy. Annual reports on the implementation of the action plan have been published for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The 2017 annual report is being drafted by the Department of Health. Both the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I, along with the Department of Health are committed to implementing a number of key recommendations in the plan in the short to medium term. I will set out for the Senators some of the current and future priority legislative elements in which we are involved.
One of our priorities relates to our EU obligations. The Department is continuing the transposition and implementation of the EU tobacco products directive and the secondary legislation arising from it. The adoption of the directive provided harmonious laws across Europe on tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to facilitate the smooth functioning of the international market while assuring a high level of public health protection. Articles 15 and 16 of the directive establish an EU-wide tracking, tracing and security feature scheme for all unit packaging of tobacco products. The aim of this scheme is to fight the illicit trade in tobacco products. Illicit trade undermines the free circulation of compliant products and the overall protection provided by tobacco control legislation. The European Commission recently adopted the relevant secondary legislation and these secondary Acts are being transposed into Irish law in the Department.
The first protocol of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been signed by Ireland. It deals with the illicit trade of tobacco. Arrangements are being put in place to ratify the protocol. The implementation of the EU tracking and tracing legislation is a key step to ensure that Ireland will be in a position to ratify the protocol. As a strong supporter of the World Health Organization convention, it is important that Ireland proceeds with the ratification of this protocol.
Government approval has been given for the introduction of a licensing system and other measures relating to the sale of tobacco products and non-medical nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. The work involves developing the policy for a licensing scheme for tobacco products and non-medical nicotine delivery schemes to inform the general scheme of the Bill. The proposed legislation is based on the recommendations from the Tobacco Free Ireland report. As well as licensing those who sell tobacco and e-cigarettes, it will include provisions to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18.
The Senators’ proposal is to extend the legislative base for the smoking ban to outdoor areas where food is consumed. I am assuming that the Senators’ recommendations relate to commercial public places only. The current legislative framework on tobacco control is the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts 2002 to 2015. Section 47 of the Acts prohibits smoking in most enclosed work places. This includes office blocks, public houses or bars, restaurants and company vehicles such as cars and vans. There are some exemptions from the general prohibition for certain places or premises, including prisons, nursing homes, non-acute long-stay facilities and psychiatric hospitals. The overall purpose of the ban is to limit the harm of second-hand smoke. I recognise and support the principles behind the motion. I acknowledge the Senators’ proposal to seek to protect people further from the harm of second-hand smoke and to denormalise further the smoking of tobacco in society.
It is clear from what I have outlined today that the Government is committed to implementing Tobacco Free Ireland. It has and is being done in a planned and systematic way based on priorities. These priorities are also influenced by EU and World Health Organization obligations. Tobacco Free Ireland contains recommendations which set out an obligation to monitor the effectiveness of current smoke free legislation, including the review of existing exemptions and the monitoring of compliance with these provisions. I am of the view that the Senators’ proposal could be considered and examined in that context. This examination can take place after the legislative programme set out above is completed and Ireland has both complied with the international obligations and introduced a comprehensive licensing system for the sale of tobacco products. I accept the motion and I assure the Senators that the measures will be addressed on completion of the current tobacco control legislative programme.
I reiterate that we can be proud of what we have achieved here in Ireland. The effect of our laws is such that we have a generation of young people growing up without knowing what it is like to smoke in a pub and restaurant. They have grown up without seeing tobacco packs displayed behind shop counters. Those reaching school age now will grow up without seeing heavily branded tobacco packs because of plain packaging. I thank the Senators for all their support in the past, for the various tobacco interventions and for their aims at saving lives.
I ask that we continue to support tobacco legislation that will come the way of Senators in future. If we believe in our children's health and well-being, as mentioned by many Senators, it makes real sense to go ahead and implement this as soon as possible. I am sure with the guidance of the Department, we will do that. I do not know if I will be in my current position at that stage but if I must I will pass the baton to somebody else. I thank the Senators for this opportunity.
I will not take the five minutes.
I consider myself disciplined.
You are just better informed. I thank the Minister of State for her support and I mention again the tobacco unit in the Department led by Dr. Fenton Howell. I also remember Ms Dilly O'Brien and Ms Claire Gordon.
It is great to have such support and I thank all Senators who offered such support from the various parties. It is much appreciated and it is great when the House can unify on a public health measure like this because it is so important. I will read a note I made for myself at the end. I am delighted that Senator McFadden mentioned Dr. Des Cox as I spoke to him and I was going to mention that as a paediatrician, he has alluded to the damage done by second-hand smoke to young lungs and children in general. The Minister of State is correct. I do not have the latest figures but I have research published in 2013 indicating the smoking ban resulted in a reduction in ill-health amounting to an immediate 13% decrease in all-cause mortality, a 26% reduction in ischemic heart disease, a 32% reduction in stroke and a 38% reduction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Public support for this is huge and since this has come to the fore I have met many people who have been positive in their support of it. The website thejournal.ie did a poll of 14,000 people and 9,000 were in favour of this measure. It is important to reiterate Senator Dolan's comments in that we are not anti-smoker but we are anti-smoking. We are here to support smokers in giving up the habit because we know the damage that will be done to them. They do too. I know of no smoker, even including the executives in tobacco companies, who wishes his or her child to be a smoker. In itself that speaks volumes.
The World Health Organization has the MPOWER document. It covers: monitoring tobacco use and prevention, as done by the Department; protecting people from smoking; offering help to quit, and there have been major advances in that regard with making nicotine replacement therapy and other medication available to help people quit; and warning about dangers.
Although the debate has done much, if it did nothing else it would educate and inform young people about the dangers of smoking. The MPOWER document also takes in enforcement of bans, and we have been very successful with that. There are challenges and people are continuously testing the boundaries with court cases. I am always very concerned by who is funding those cases. Forest Ireland on a television show a few years ago denied being funded by the tobacco companies but later admitted to being funded by Forest UK, which is funded by the tobacco companies. It is an industry that has lied over the years, denying the addictive nature of this habit and the product in hearings, knowing that to be untrue.
I say the following to people with concerns about small businesses. This measure would not prevent businesses from providing an outdoor area in which people can smoke but it should not be the same area allocated for dining. It should never be the case of deciding between jobs and health or well-being. We should not have to decide between livelihoods and lives. It is what we are talking about. Damage done early in life can haunt one later, which is terrible. As the Minister of State has said, very few of us have not been affected by that damage. Deputy Marc MacSharry has spoken of his uncles and aunts who were afflicted by lung cancer caused by smoking.
Senator Buttimer's point is also well made. I have smoked but if we ask any smoker why he or she started - it would make people sick the first time - the reason is because it looked cool. Our challenge is to make it uncool to smoke. We must make it look foolish to smoke and we must help young people understand that. There is much more to do and I know we can do it. We must get to the point where none of our children smokes and there is a tobacco-free society. This motion is another step along the road to achieving that goal. I thank Senators for their support.