Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 206 No. 6

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady): Information on Aine Brady Zoom on Aine Brady In Budget 2009, as part of the programme of rationalisation of State agencies, it was proposed that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control would be merged to form the Public Health and Medicines Safety Authority. The case for this [403]merger was based primarily on the broadly similar functional responsibilities of the three bodies in terms of their standards setting and inspectorate functions, and their risk assessment and evaluation roles. However, following the pivotal role played by the FSAI during the 2008 dioxin incident, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in May 2009, recommended a reversal of this proposed merger. In December 2009, the inter-agency dioxin review group also recommended that the independence of Ireland’s food safety infrastructure be maintained. The Government, thereafter, decided in June this year to retain both the FSAI and the IMB as independent, stand-alone agencies. The Government also decided to revert to its earlier decision to merge the OTC within the HSE as it was considered that there was no case for merging the OTC with either the FSAI or the IMB.

In introducing this Bill, it is appropriate to reflect on the comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation that has been introduced in Ireland since 2002 and the significant contribution made by the OTC in its implementation. These important public health measures include the smoke-free initiative in 2004, the ban on the sale of packs of cigarettes of less than 20 in 2007 and the ban on in-store display and advertising and the introduction of the retail register in 2009. This comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation places Ireland in the top rank of countries internationally. However, despite the legislative measures taken to date and the widespread knowledge of the harm caused by tobacco consumption, smoking prevalence in Ireland remains high.

In view of this it is now necessary to refocus our efforts to reduce smoking rates generally, with a particular emphasis on young people. With the core legislation already in place, we now need to focus to a greater extent on the broader health promotion and smoking cessation measures necessary to reduce smoking prevalence. This integrated approach, allied with ongoing enforcement of the legislation, is essential if we are to continue to make progress towards a tobacco free society. In this regard, the HSE has recently published its tobacco control framework to provide a coherent approach to promote public health by reducing tobacco use in Ireland. This framework recognises the need for effective and evidence based tobacco control measures, including offering help to people who want to quit and warning of the dangers of tobacco.

It is timely in this context that the Bill before the Seanad provides for the functions and staff of the Office of Tobacco Control to transfer into the HSE from 1 January 2011. This additional resource and expertise will significantly assist the HSE in achieving its tobacco related population health objectives in the years ahead; objectives that are fundamental to a reduction in the health and social burden of tobacco consumption in Ireland.

The Bill comprises 15 sections. Section 1 defines certain words and terms used in the Bill. Section 2 dissolves the office. Section 3 transfers functions of the office into the Health Service Executive. Section 4 provides for references to the office in any enactment to be construed as references to the Health Service Executive and for the completion by the HSE of any function commenced by the office prior to dissolution. Sections 5 and 6 transfer land, other property and any money, stocks, shares, securities, rights and liabilities of the office to the Health Service Executive. Section 7 provides that every contract or agreement made by the office which is in force immediately before the commencement of the Act, shall continue in force and have effect as if the Health Service Executive were substituted for office.

Section 8 substitutes the name of the Health Service Executive for the name of the office in any pending legal proceedings to which the office is a party immediately before the commencement of the Act. The proceedings shall not abate by reason of such substitution.

[404]Section 9 provides that every person who is currently a member of staff of the office shall be transferred to and become an employee of the Health Service Executive. It ensures that their conditions of service, remuneration and superannuation benefits shall be no less favourable than those applicable immediately before commencement of the Act. The previous service of a person transferred shall be reckonable and they shall be deemed to be employed in accordance with the Health Acts 1947 to 2009.

Section 10 transfers each record held by the office immediately before commencement of the Act to the Health Service Executive. Sections 11 and 12 require the Health Service Executive to cause final accounts and final report of the office to be prepared and to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Section 13 repeals Part 2 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002, which established the Office of Tobacco Control and sets out the general functions and procedures under which the office operated. Section 14 provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Section 15 provides for the Short Title, commencement and collective citation.

I draw attention to the welcome given by the OTC’s chairman to the transfer of the office into the HSE. The OTC considers that this move will ensure that Ireland’s ongoing work to create a tobacco-free society, in which Ireland is a world leader, will stay at the heart of public health. I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I welcome the Minister of State. Fine Gael will support his legislation, in line with our support for the rationalisation of State organisations. It is important, however, that the message goes out from this House today that our battle to address tobacco addiction is far from finished and remains a huge challenge to our health, education and wider social system.

I will speak later of what the WHO states at this point on the worldwide challenge of dealing with this issue and the tobacco industry. It is also focusing increasingly on the effects of second hand smoke. That is very important. The WHO quotes a frightening figure and awareness of this in this country is not high. More than 600,000 deaths per year are caused by second hand smoke worldwide, more than 1% of all deaths and of those, 165,000 deaths are of children. Smokers are not only putting themselves at risk, they are placing at risk 1.8 billion non-smokers. The statistics are frightening. Women and children are disproportionately affected and there is major regional variation. Policy makers are being urged to take action to protect the population from exposure to second-hand smoke. We need effective policies in this regard and that is a challenge we must meet. We must treat the effects of tobacco and smoking more seriously.

It is important we recognise the positive steps that have been taken in this country, which the Minister of State listed. Some of the targets in the strategy, Towards a Tobacco Free Society, have been met, as acknowledged by the Irish Cancer Society. The Office of Tobacco Control, which first received statutory status in 2002, has played an important role in meeting these targets. In discussing a rationalisation such as this, it is important to acknowledge the work that has been done. The people in that office were proactive and the issue had a high priority at one time in our health policies, although it does not to the same extent now. It can be quite disappointing for people who have worked in an area and given priority to it to find themselves subsumed into a larger body such as the HSE. I pay tribute to the staff of the Office of Tobacco Control and I hope the valuable work they have been doing will continue and will be given priority.

[405]The Office of Tobacco Control has compiled significant data on the level of compliance with tobacco legislation and on the attitudes of the public, particularly young people, towards smoking. The subsuming of the office into the HSE should not be perceived as a lack of commitment to tackling the issues surrounding tobacco. Despite all the efforts and welcome initiatives, the rate of smoking in Ireland remains high, and we have serious work to do in health promotion and the provision of education and information on the effects of smoking, particularly for young people and women.

As we have seen over the years, the money put into advertising by the tobacco industry to target different sections of society, particularly women, has been effective. The Government must be aware that we are dealing with a large industry, and its message must be strong. We need to redouble our efforts to tackle this serious public health issue. Obviously, there are many priorities in public health and health promotion, but this is a key one. I have already quoted statistics on the appalling effects of second-hand smoking. Our health service spends a fortune on treating tobacco-related illnesses — I have heard a figure of €2 billion. The health budget is approximately €15 billion per year. Does the Minister of State agree with that assessment? In these hard economic times, the economic benefit of reducing the level of smoking is clear.

We need to hear answers to the following questions from the Minister of State. The current HSE service plan has no specific target of reducing smoking prevalence. Will this change in the new service plan, and what targets does she envisage? Will the Minister instruct the HSE to produce a new national strategy to reduce smoking prevalence and build on the work of the report, Towards a Tobacco Free Society?

There is another serious issue, which also applies to other areas about which we are concerned. In the current economic climate, community-based smoking cessation programs have been severely cut. The impact of these cuts on achieving reductions in smoking will be serious. We all know how difficult it is for people to give up smoking, and what is clear from the research is that a multifaceted approach is required, with advice and support from friends and good quality information. Being part of a group such as a smoking cessation program can help. If some of those elements are not available to people, it will be much more difficult for them to stop smoking.

The number of calls to the National Smokers’ Quitline has gone down. This is not because people have stopped smoking or do not need help; it is because there is less advertising and, like anything, if people do not know the service is available, they will not make the call. This telephone service is a point of information and contact which is available to people who need it.

I have already talked about the cost of smoking-related illnesses, which is substantial. Around 6,000 people die every year from smoking-related illnesses and statistics indicate that 1 million people in Ireland smoke. Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in Ireland, causing 30% of all cancers, including 95% of lung cancers. What we know about lung cancer is that it is very slow to be detected and late diagnoses are common. In many people, lung cancer has developed to quite a degree before a diagnosis is given. It is frightening to see that more and more women are dying from lung cancer. In fact, we are about to pass the point at which more women will die from lung cancer than from breast cancer.

This is a serious public health issue for women and men and continues to demand our attention, priority and public money because its consequences are so serious. Sometimes it is dismissed as though it does not have public health implications. People say it is a question of personal choice and it is not that serious, but we should be far beyond that point based on the quality of the research we have available to us about the impact of smoking.

[406]This is not the time to take our eye off the ball in tackling the use of tobacco products. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government in its commitment to the objective of reducing the use of tobacco products. The Bill must pass today only with assurances that the fight against tobacco and smoking will not be diminished as a result of the measures contained in it and that a new strategy and specific targets will be established.

The selling of smuggled cigarettes is increasingly common. I have seen this in my own area of Clondalkin, where people drop leaflets advertising the sale of illegal cigarettes and alcohol door-to-door without any regulation. We saw a serious report on this on “Prime Time” the other night in which the links between cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking were clearly laid out. We are not talking about young children who want to make some extra money. This is part of a big, illegal industry which is linked to trafficking of women and the importation of drugs. It is not something that should be ignored; it demands our resources and attention. We also saw in the programme that such cigarettes contain very dangerous substances. I believe people in this country are not aware that when they buy smuggled cigarettes the material contained in them is dangerous to their health. This is something that must be tackled seriously. ASH has put out information recently about a dedicated free telephone line for members of the public to report details or concerns about the smuggling of cigarettes. ASH states that the availability of smuggled cigarettes not only affects the economy but represents a significant health risk and supports organised crime. The sale and importation of smuggled cigarettes must be seen as an activity of major international criminal gangs. That is what is going on and it must be tackled. Members of the public need to know about this confidential free telephone line.

I welcome the provisions of the legislation, which makes sense as part of the rationalisation of State agencies, but we must continue to prioritise the valuable work that was done by this organisation when it was not under the control of the HSE but was an independent body. Its work remains vital and I hope this is acknowledged within the HSE.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brady. I welcome the Bill. I always smile when I see a short tranche of legislation. The shorter it is, the stronger. There is no doubt that when one hears a speech read out and everything one wishes to say has already been said by Senator Fitzgerald, then we are all singing from the one hymn sheet. Such Bills are always short, powerful tranches of legislation. I am pleased to speak to the Bill and I gather all Stages will be taken today. As the Minister of State has outlined, the Bill is primarily for the dissolution of the Office of Tobacco Control as part of the rationalisation of State agencies. The former Office of Tobacco Control will fall under the remit of the HSE.

This gives everyone here a chance to discuss the important work we must carry out to eliminate tobacco smoking in the country and to achieve a tobacco-free society. This is not easy to do when one considers we are a nation of 4.5 million people of which 1 million are smokers. It is a shame to see young people smoking. God knows when I was going to school it was a great thing if one had a few pence in one’s pencil box and one bought a couple of loose cigarettes. The Leas-Chathaoirleach would not remember that time, he is far too young. One would even smoke a cigarette that was three or four days old and die for a day from the sickness as a result. Today it is so sophisticated with nice wrappers and attractive packaging but the hazards are so much worse than in my time. This is remarkably sad because we know the terrible, negative and killing effects on us of tobacco smoking. However, some in our young, well-educated society are still prepared to take risks with their lungs, heart and every other organ in their body that smoking affects.

Recently I was passing through the airport on my way to a funeral in Manchester. I was browsing through the duty free shops because everyone was snowed under in Manchester and [407]the airlines were waiting to defrost engines and so on. As I walked around I was blown away at the size of the duty free advertising for cigarettes, which was massive. The perfumes, make-up, sweets, cheese and expensive nice foods that one may pick up in little hampers did not get a look in because of the big billboards — they were certainly billboards — advertising cigarettes. Needless to say, everyone there was looking at the prices. The smallest package available was a carton of 200 or 400 cigarettes. It struck me that we have introduced great legislation which hides all of this under the roller shutters in our local shops. However, this is not the case in airports where people are more inclined to buy in bulk in the belief one is getting a bargain. The advertising is there in one’s face making it a good deal more attractive. It would be preferable were it kept behind a shutter although I realise there is a legitimate reason why this is the case. It has to be this way but I wish we could begin to chip away at it and perhaps change it.

We were the people who brought in the smoking ban. I recall when it was introduced in 2003 or 2004 and cameras from throughout the world came to Dublin to find out what it was like. In particular, the Chinese and Japanese came here and they could not get over how we were going to try to stop people smoking in public places. If we began at one airport, perhaps Cork or Shannon, and then followed through to our main airport in Dublin, perhaps we could be world leaders in this regard as well.

From a budget of approximately €18 billion, some €2 billion is spent each year from the health budget in this area. I am certain this must bring pain to the heart of the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, because there are so many other stronger needs for the small resources at the disposal of the Minister for State. I realise if the Department of Health and Children, the Minister and the Ministers of State had their way, there would be a doubling of the €18 billion to look after everyone. It must kill the Minister of State to see €2 billion going on tobacco-related illnesses.

We cannot take this issue off our agenda and this legislation affords us a chance to get the message across. The last day I spoke on this matter I asked about the pictures on the back of cigarette cartons. I note this will be introduced and I will be pleased when it takes place because perhaps it will shake up some of the young people when they see the evidence in dark, graphic photographs.

I agree with Senator Fitzgerald regarding the damage second-hand smoke can do. I note reports in the newspapers last week of a case highlighting the terrible damage done to a young child, a six year old, who had been exposed to second hand smoke from the time he was born. He had lived in a small, confined apartment.

  12 o’clock

I refer to the issue of cigarette smuggling. I realise the cancer control people were somewhat annoyed that the budget did not include an increase in the price of cigarettes. Sometimes the adage, “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” applies. When we put up the price of cigarettes we encourage the black market and smugglers. I know of people who go to Spain on a cheap flight and bring back any amount of cigarettes for their own consumption, although not to sell. However, the black market will always invite smugglers. As we have heard, these are not young people. They are people openly making a living by dropping leaflets in doorways to advertise the sale of cigarettes and cheap alcohol. I call on the Minister of State to keep an eye on this issue.

We should do whatever we can and I believe people will work together to try to bring about a tobacco-free society. We will be a better off race of people when we do so. I look forward to the remainder of the Bill passing through the Houses. It seems there are always young people in the Visitors Gallery when anything such as this is going through. It cannot be empha[408]sised loudly enough that if one is not a smoker one should not start. Those who smoke maintain it is the hardest thing to give up.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris This is really a technical Bill but it has given us an opportunity which I am glad my colleagues have exploited perfectly correctly by putting on the record very serious issues concerning health and the machinations of the tobacco industry. With some of them I agree and with some I disagree strongly. I wish to set the scene by pointing out that 16 people per day in Ireland are killed as a result of the tobacco industry and smoking. I use the term “killed” rather than “die” because this is quite deliberate and specific. The tobacco industry has known for decades, since before it was publically announced, that there was a direct link between smoking and cancer. It did everything it could to frustrate that research, to deny it and to use its financial wealth to prevent the public being alerted. They amount to a criminal conspiracy, especially in the United States of America, against the health and welfare of the nation.

I speak as a recovering smoker. It was terribly silly to get rid of the packets of ten because that only forces people to buy packs of 20 and if one is a smoker one will smoke all 20 cigarettes. Packs of ten make it easier for people to cut down. It was an absurd thing and I was pleased to see a former candidate for this House and a very decent man, Dr. Maurice Gueret, write about this point in his column in the Sunday Independent recently. I cheered inwardly when I read what he said.

Up to 16 people a day, 50% of those who smoke, die from smoking related diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer. The latter is a particularly unpleasant illness as I know from having seen several friends die from it. More than 90% of lung cancers are preventable as they are caused by smoking.

Those are matters which should cause us all to pause and think about the impact of this trade. It is difficult to put the genie back in the bottle; there is no point trying to make smoking illegal. There is a substantial point, however, in raising taxes on tobacco products and I am extremely disappointed no provision for an increase in taxes has been made.

I recommend the Minister of State and her officials examine the data about cigarette smuggling I included in the Official Report the last time this legislation was debated in the House. The tobacco companies have been lobbying against tax increases and even have access to politicians in Leinster House. They are squealing, claiming their profits are affected by smuggling. I do not think so. Their profits are being increased by smuggling. Not only that, I highlight a series of cases in the United States of America in which the companies were convicted of colluding with tobacco smugglers. It is extraordinary to me how, on the one hand, they can be lobbying against it while criminally colluding, on the other, to the extent they are convicted in court and subsequently fined. Can someone explain that to me?

There will always be a profit for the tobacco companies whether they sell them through the black market or legitimate channels. Smuggling ensures a supply of cheap cigarettes to keep the addiction going and wavering smokers on the hook. Smuggled cigarettes seized by customs authorities have to be replaced to meet demand for the product, meaning the tobacco companies earn profits twice. More importantly, it allows them to argue for reduced taxation because it is claimed taxes cannot be raised because of smuggling. In Australia, however, the authorities raised the taxes successfully.

I urge the Minister of State to resist the argument made – I accept made in good faith – about smuggling. Smuggling is a dark area and the tobacco companies are not immune from it. I agree with my colleagues that the sale of illegally imported cigarettes is widespread. I see it every day of the week in the centre of Dublin with trays and boxes of illegally imported cigarettes being sold on Henry Street, Mary Street, O’Connell Street and O’Connell Bridge. I [409]do not approve of it but I also believe it does not affect tobacco companies’ sales. I would be concerned if this was a matter that was taken into account in this context.

This is a technical Bill that dissolves the Office of Tobacco Control and transfers its functions to the Health Service Executive. I hope this is intended to provide efficiency. In this case, it may well do so as the new agency will be in with other medical areas such as poisons and so forth. I hope, however, this legislation will strengthen the impact of the organisation rather than weaken it. Like my two preceding colleagues, we all want the practice of smoking discouraged. I acknowledge Senator Feeney’s point that it was a close relative of this Government that introduced——

Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Information on Niall Ó Brolcháin Zoom on Niall Ó Brolcháin The Senator should be careful.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris ——the smoking ban. The previous Government, which was of a similar complexion to this one, introduced several good measures which I have never denied. The smoking ban was remarkable and put Ireland to the forefront of world policy. Ireland was the first state in the world to implement such a ban, a fact of which we should be very proud. Not only that, we got away it. At the time, it was believed the Irish people would not tolerate such a ban. It was claimed their subversive streak would come out and the ban would be so substantially undermined that a mockery would be made of it. That never happened. The next thing, other countries were following Ireland’s example.

I hope through this debate we can encourage those involved in the Office of Tobacco Control to continue the same policies and be as successful as they have been in the past. I assume there will be a specific dedicated unit in the general framework which will target tobacco consumption.

I am glad I had the opportunity to highlight my suspicions of the tobacco industry and that tobacco smuggling is used by the industry to get into the political system. It allows them to lobby while wringing their hands claiming it is dreadful they are being undermined by smuggling. Such claims are rubbish. It allows them to undermine the arguments for an increase in prices which is what will seriously inhibit smoking.

It is exactly the same with the drinks industry. The drinks industry is very powerful and needs to be watched as it too does not have the health interests of this country at heart. An academic study should be carried out of the subliminal impact of its hypocritical blather in its advertisements about remembering to drink sensibly. Its message when decoded says one will be a sexually potent, wonderful, beautiful and intelligent person, have the party of one’s life and the more one drinks, the better it will be, but, PS, drink carefully. If it is going to have that effect, why the hell would one drink carefully? One would slosh it all down as hard as one could and have a real orgy of a good time. That is the drinks industry’s message. They should not be allowed to get away with that hypocrisy like the tobacco industry has effected in penetrating the Houses of the Oireachtas with its deliberately false message.

Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Information on Niall Ó Brolcháin Zoom on Niall Ó Brolcháin I hope Senator Norris is not suggesting we organise orgies in this House or another house that he may have ambitions to enter in the future.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I suggested we should be careful of those who encourage us to have them.

Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Information on Niall Ó Brolcháin Zoom on Niall Ó Brolcháin Senator Norris used very colourful language, on which I commend him.

I welcome the correct approach taken in the Bill not to merge the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or the Irish Medicines Board with the Office of Tobacco Control, as those organisations [410]have specific remits. Bringing the office into the Health Service Executive allows us added value and will improve the health aspects of tobacco.

Unlike certain other Senators, I would be one of those described as a goody-goody as I have never smoked in my life. When I was a student in London I worked in a pub at one stage where I found passive smoking to be appalling. After a night’s work, I went home and coughed my lungs up. It was disgusting and was nothing to do with me smoking but with others.

As many Senators said, the success of the smoking ban is not only to the credit of the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, but also to the Government of the day. More than anything, however, it is to the credit of the people. The initiative has had a great impact and is now being copied all over the world. Therefore, we do get some things right in this country. Unfortunately, however, our financial difficulties are also being copied all over the world.

I wish to expand on a specific point made by Senator Norris. He said he was disappointed that there had not been an increase in the tax rate on cigarettes in this or the last budget. I completely concur with him — there should have been an increase in the tax rate on tobacco in the last two budgets.

There seems to be an anomaly in how the rate of inflation is calculated. An increase in the price of tobacco products seems to skew the rate of inflation over and above the expenditure involved. I ask the Minister of State to examine this point because we should be able to raise the price of cigarettes without it having such an effect on the rate of inflation. This objective should be achievable.

Any impediment in raising the tax rate on tobacco should be removed because such a tax has a beneficial effect. Poverty is frequently raised as an issue in arguments about the price of tobacco. Cigarette smoking is addictive and traditionally many in poorer areas smoke. A measure similar to the carbon tax is needed, whereby any revenue raised by an increase in the tax rate on tobacco could be used to promote programmes and products to help people to quit smoking. As people commonly want to quit smoking, they should be provided with products such as nicotine patches to help them to do so. An increased tax rate on cigarettes could raise funding to finance such initiatives.

Cigarette smuggling is becoming a big issue, but why are people being allowed to sell illegal cigarettes on O’Connell Bridge? Such activity should not be tolerated. People may say it is not an issue for the Garda Síochána, but I ask the Minister of State to explore the possibility of using unemployed persons to police the problem as community wardens. Local authority employees could also act to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes. It should not be necessary to arrest people, but we must control cigarette smuggling which cannot be tolerated.

Huge numbers of cigarettes are being imported illegally in container ships. This problem needs to be dealt with at the point of importation, but we have a land border with Northern Ireland and it is very easy to import and export illegal cigarettes via that route. It is also difficult to prevent illegal cigarettes being imported through small ports and harbours smuggled aboard ships or small boats in some cases. We must do what we can in policing the problem.

Senator Fitzgerald was right to indicate the linkage between cigarette smuggling and the importation of other illicit drugs. It is crucial that this problem is policed.

Not all of these points relate to the Bill, but we do not receive too many opportunities to discuss the issue of tobacco control. This country would be a much better place in which to live if we could reduce further the level of tobacco consumption. While I do not want to be too prescriptive about the culture that has developed outside pubs with the provision of heated outdoor facilities, it is necessary to ensure the smoking ban is adhered to. We should not consider that the indoor smoking ban in public places is complete. We should keep tightening [411]the regulations on where people can and cannot smoke. Smoking is an anti-social exercise that belonged to the 19th century, not the modern age. The country would be a healthier place in which to live if we could cut back as much as possible on the level of tobacco consumption. I would like to see the day when smoking will go out of fashion and people will look on it as something that was done in the Dark Ages. I hope that will happen because the benefits associated with smoking are nil, whereas the problems associated with it are widespread. I reiterate Senator Feeney’s plea to younger people not to start smoking because it is not cool to smoke. Most older people who got hooked on it in their youth find it very difficult to quit, even if they want to do so.

Senators have made responsible contributions to this debate. It is important that there is unanimous support for the legislation and that we ensure it is passed. I again thank the Minister of State for bringing it before the House.

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady): Information on Aine Brady Zoom on Aine Brady I thank Senators for their contributions on and their support for this measure, which I greatly appreciate. I also endorse and acknowledge the wonderful work done by the Office of Tobacco Control which is located in my constituency in Millennium Park in Naas.

I agree with Senators that we need to reduce the numbers who smoke, particularly among young people. Whenever I visit schools, I use the outreach programme to discuss the issue with students. I encourage young people not to smoke because we all know how difficult it is to stop. All of the legislation introduced to date will reduce the prevalence of smoking among young people. It should be acknowledged that while almost 50% of the adult population smoked in the 1970s, this figure has been considerably reduced to almost 30%.

According to the Revenue Commissioners, it is difficult to determine the level of cigarette consumption in Ireland, as is the case in any other country. We must take account of the fact that no excise duty is paid on many cigarettes owing to the level of consumption of untaxed products, whether legitimately or illegally acquired. Low-cost air travel, an increased number of trips abroad and cross-Border purchases provide people with an opportunity to obtain cheaper cigarettes outside the State.

Many Senators referred to the issue of smuggling, extent of which is illustrated by the growth in the number of seizures made by the Revenue Commissioners. They include the seizure of almost 30 million cigarettes found on one ship in Dublin Port. I have been assured by the Revenue Commissioners that they will continue to implement a wide-ranging programme of measures to combat this threat. The programmes includes continuing seizures of illegal products, prosecuting offenders, monitoring Internet sites, instigating test purchases to identify importation routes, monitoring sales patterns to identify and investigate irregularities and targeting enforcement activity. In addition, we contribute to actions taken at EU level to improve controls on excisable products in the Community, as well as monitoring sea cargoes on the basis of a risk analysis and seizures.

Senator Feeney referred to tobacco product advertising at Manchester airport. Such advertising at Irish airports has been severely curtailed since 1 July 2009. Since that date, only one image of each product sold can be displayed at the point of sale. This has been beneficial to those trying to give up cigarettes. When people are out for a drink, that they cannot see the product is a help. The price of cigarettes in Ireland is the highest in the world.

The recently published HSE tobacco control framework will build on the comprehensive tobacco control legislation now in place. It will ensure the positive work undertaken by the Office of Tobacco Control in implementing the legislation will be combined with the health promotion function and cessation programmes, with the ultimate objective of having a tobacco-[412]free society. That remains my objective and that of the Government and all Members of the Houses.

Question put and agreed to.

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