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Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 852 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Reilly: Information on James Reilly Zoom on James Reilly]  I would like to respond to those Deputies who stated they remain unconvinced this measure alone would stop people smoking. Standardised packaging is but the latest strand to a comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation already in place in Ireland, which aims to denormalise the practice of smoking.

It is the combination of past, present and future tobacco control measures that will reduce tobacco consumption in Ireland, and not one measure in isolation. All the measures outlined in our tobacco policy, entitled "Tobacco Free Ireland", will have a role in reducing the prevalence of smoking in Ireland. However, standardised packaging is important as it is the next step in tackling tobacco advertising and promotion specifically.

Ireland is adopting an approach recommended by the World Health Organisation. Guidelines devised under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ask countries to consider introducing standardised packaging for tobacco. Standardised packaging is not, therefore, a new concept. As we know, Australia has already acted upon this WHO recommendation. Some 22 months on from the introduction of standardised packaging in Australia, the latest figures show that the total consumption of tobacco products there was the lowest ever recorded. That is why the tobacco industry is so exercised about this initiative.

As regards the illicit trade of tobacco, the tobacco industry's estimates of the size of that market are not considered to be accurate. Recent industry reports identify an Australian illicit trade market of 13.3%, whereas government data indicates that 1.5% of smokers use illicit trade tobacco. Who do we trust more? Who has the wellbeing of its citizens at heart? The tobacco industry or the Australian Government? I congratulate the Australian Government for making this brave move and taking on the industry through the courts in that jurisdiction. In addition, it has continued to fight at the World Trade Organisation where the jury is still out and there has been no final ruling.

There is a wealth of evidence indicating that standardised packaging will have a positive impact. No matter what evidence we produce, however, the tobacco industry will produce evidence to contradict it. This is a well-known and well-documented tactic of the tobacco industry.

The Irish Cancer Society undertook a trial involving younger children who thought the current cigarette packets were "nice", "lovely" and "made you want to hold them". When the same children were presented with plain packets from Australia, including graphic pictures of the damage smoking does, they said: "Ugh. Who'd ever want to smoke?" Children are not stupid and if facts are presented to them they know how to react. I am confident too that the Irish public, including our TDs and Senators, will act in the public good.

Arguments put out by the tobacco industry regarding increased illicit trade and supposed job losses from the retail sector should not deflect us from doing what is right. I said this on the floor of the European Parliament when the EU directive was being put through under our EU Presidency. It should never be a case of choosing between jobs and lives, and we are talking about lives. Some 700,000 Europeans die every single year from tobacco use. It is an astonishing figure.

Another well-known tactic of the tobacco industry is the threat of legal challenges. While a legal challenge by the industry cannot be ruled out, I am confident that the research available to us demonstrates that standardised packaging will have a positive impact on health and is a proportionate and justified measure. The threat of legal challenges should not be an obstacle to progressing public health policies. We must press on with our mission to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025. Let us be clear what we mean by "tobacco free". We mean a smoking prevalence less than 5%.

We should be heartened, encouraged and proud of the support expressed by Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, on her visit to Dublin in June. She made it clear that while Ireland may face the wrath of the tobacco industry, the WHO wholeheartedly supports Ireland in our endeavours concerning standardised packaging.

I now wish to cover one or two issues in some more detail. The extent of the illicit cigarette market in Ireland is estimated through annual surveys of smokers. These surveys are undertaken for Revenue and the national tobacco control office of the HSE by IPSOS MRBI. The survey for 2012 found that 13% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland are illicit. Of the 13% classified as illegal packs, 11% were classified as contraband, almost 2% as "illicit whites", and less than 1% were counterfeit. What does this mean and what are the implications? The counterfeit trade in this country is tiny at less than 1%. The rest of it is illegal contraband which is produced by the tobacco industry. Is the industry bothered that the tobacco products are sold this way or that when they are producing them? I am sure that Deputies will be able to come to a conclusion themselves on that question.

The comparable figure for 2011 was 14%. This would suggest that the extent of the problem is being contained as a result of the extensive action being taken against the smuggling and the sale of illicit products.

I commend Deputy Micheál Martin, the current leader of the Opposition, for bringing in the smoking ban when he was Minister for Health. The ban was introduced in the workplace not in the pub, as Deputy Ó Fearghaíl alluded to. The logic behind it was to protect workers from environmental tobacco smoke.

Estimating the scale of any illegal activity and the resultant tax loss is difficult. The IPSOS MRBI survey is the best indicator of the extent of the market in illicit cigarettes. It was not about telling people they could not smoke - it was protecting the workers who had to work in such confined spaces. As a result, if people wanted to smoke they had to do so outside. As a consequence, many people have stopped smoking while others smoke a lot less.

The KPMG report, which was commissioned by the tobacco industry, is not validated. As I have said, it is contradicted very much by Government data.

Deputy Stanton mentioned the issue of talking to young people and I agree with him 100%. In the past, the Department ran an advertisement on mental health that everybody agreed was good at highlighting the issue for younger people. The Department took the precaution of talking to youth groups, however, and they came up with a very different advert that proved to be much more effective. Nobody understands younger people better than themselves and those who work most closely with them.

I would like to say that I am way ahead of Deputy Stanton. Last week I was in the west and visited Ballinasloe and Loughrea where I met a group of young people working in a youth club there. They are very involved in their community. On the wall they proudly displayed a poster advising young people not to smoke cigarettes. They won a prize for that poster and certainly hit the mark with it. They told me they had a very confined space and needed new premises, so we will do everything we can to help them in that regard. One of the young ladies said: "It's a bit squishy in here". I told her that word could yet enter the lexicon of Dáil Éireann and I am now delivering on my promise.

The work done by volunteers in the youth sector is astonishing. Some 40,000 people are involved and that is not counting all the sporting organisations. Without them we could not deliver for our children in the way we do. We must do more to support them, however, and we are certainly trying to do so. I wish to thank those volunteers for their work, as well as the young people themselves for the energy and vibrancy they bring to the sector. It makes being Minister for Children and Youth Affairs a pleasant experience.

Deputy Michael Creed and others spoke about alcohol in the context of public health measures, although it is not the subject of this Bill. It is the remit of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, but obviously I am also very concerned about it as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Underage drinking and below-cost selling must be addressed. The Government has a good alcohol policy in this regard, on which it is making progress.

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