Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Protection of the Public Interest from Tobacco Lobbying Bill 2013: Second stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Protection of the Public Interest from Tobacco Lobbying Bill 2013: Second stage. (18 Dec 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Senator John CrownI move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." 

  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I am delighted to have an opportunity to present this Bill this evening. I am honoured that the Minister has come to the House to deal with this legislation. I am sure the Government's response to it will be positive. I hope the Protection of the Public Interest from Tobacco Lobbying Bill 2013 will be seen as part of the legislative process that this Oireachtas, led by the Minister, is achieving to curtail the evils of tobacco.
  The best part of my job is giving cancer patients good news. Thankfully, due to improvements in treatment I get to give that news more often than I did before. Nothing sounds better than saying "I think you are cured". The worst part of my job is giving people bad news. All too often, it is the worst news they will ever hear in their lives - the news that they have an incurable fatal illness. Every day in Ireland, five people get the news that they have incurable fatal lung cancer. In 95% of cases, their illness was caused by smoking. The dreadful news that these poor people receive is compounded by the realisation that it was all so unnecessary.
  Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland and other western countries. In addition to cancers of the lung, throat, tongue, mouth, oesophagus, pancreas and bladder, it is a major cause of the other two leading causes of death in Ireland - heart disease and stroke. It is also a leading contributor to gangrene and peripheral vascular disease. Emphysema and other forms of chronic lung disease kill 1,500 Irish patients annually and condemn others to a life of misery and curtailed physical function, in which they are fixed to oxygen apparatuses and unable to move.
  Tobacco kills approximately 100 times more Irish people annually than illegal drugs. If it was discovered tomorrow, it would surely be illegal. Everyone knows smoking is bad for one. Everyone has heard the message about smoking and cancer. Most smokers want to quit. Is there a quorum in the House, a Chathaoirleach?
  Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Senator John Crown: Why do otherwise rational people continue to smoke when it is contrary to their own self-interest? To put it simply, it is addiction. Tobacco companies must recruit 50 new tobacco addicts daily just to replace the deaths that are caused by their own products. In 80% of cases, these novice smokers are children. Big tobacco will deny the reality that its business plan can be summed up in four words: "addict children to carcinogens". Big tobacco wants more people to start smoking and wants existing smokers to keep smoking, whereas public health policy is aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminating tobacco use and putting the tobacco industry out of business in the process. For these reasons, the goals of public health and those of big tobacco are fundamentally incompatible. Their relationship must be perpetually adversarial and unremittingly hostile. How else could a responsible Government react to an industry that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of its citizens?


Big tobacco is not and cannot be the Government's partner in any sort of enterprise. Big tobacco has just one agenda: it wants to sell tobacco. It is incredibly rich and terrifyingly powerful. Its worldwide sales of 350 billion cigarettes translate into profits of €35 billion. It is not surprising that big tobacco does everything in its power to thwart the tobacco control policies of democratic Governments. Historically, its weapons were the denial of health risks and spurious pseudo-research. For many years, and in the face of a crushing weight of evidence, it absurdly contended that smoking does not cause cancer. When an increasingly sophisticated population began to reject big tobacco's lies, it turned to more subtle weapons, including lobbying, legal intimidation and bribery.


During Ireland's EU Presidency, the Minister for Health's innovative pan-European anti-smoking proposals were watered down following intense lobbying of parliamentarians. The New York Times reported recently that American tobacco companies, cognisant of the fact that their traditional markets in western countries are continuing to shrink, are actively attempting to undermine efforts to introduce anti-smoking legislation in developing countries. Uruguay and Namibia have found themselves facing multi-billion euro lawsuits and years of litigation. The reach of big tobacco is such that it has managed to enlist some very strange allies. The US Chamber of Commerce has campaigned against the Minister's plain packaging laws. It is rumoured that officials from the US Government have expressed displeasure with the Minister's innovative proposal to introduce plain packaging.


The World Health Organization of the United Nations has passed a directive to provide an appropriately transparent framework for the conduct of meetings between Governments and the industry in situations where such meetings are felt to be unavoidable. Ireland is a signatory. The directive strongly discourages such meetings, stating that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the tobacco industry and those of public policy. It stipulates that where interactions with the tobacco industry are necessary, they should be conducted transparently, preferably in public. Ireland has signed up to this convention, but I fear that it has not always lived up to it.


Senators will recall that the heads of the leading tobacco companies, as represented by the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee, managed to get a 45-minute private audience with the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Finance and Justice and Equality earlier this year. I refer specifically to Steven Donaldson, Andrew Meagher and John Freda, who are the chiefs of PJ Carroll, John Player and Japan Tobacco International, respectively. The Minister for Health wisely and correctly declined to attend. I commend him for his wisdom in this regard. This meeting was ostensibly an opportunity for these businessmen to inform the Government of their concerns regarding tobacco smuggling. It was described by a spokesman for the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee as "very positive". Worryingly, it was reported that other matters were discussed, including the industry's opposition to the Minister for Health's proposals to tighten the anti-smoking regulations, for example by banning menthol roll-ups. These issues, rather than the issue of smuggling, are the ones that are close to the industry's heart and constitute its real agenda.


How did this meddling cartel of drug dealers get access to senior Fine Gael Ministers? Which lobbyists could pull off a stunt like this? The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee's public relations activities are handled by Hall Communications and its anti-smuggling campaign is managed by O'Herlihy Communications, which was founded by Bill O'Herlihy. Mr. O'Herlihy, who has extensive Fine Gael connections and who acted as public relations adviser to my personal hero in Irish politics, the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald, also attended this meeting. In two years in Leinster House, I have succeeded in scheduling exactly one 20-minute formal meeting with the Minister for Health to discuss cancer research. I tried to lobby the Minister for Finance to remove VAT from cancer-preventing sunblock in a rushed whispered conversation in the Dáil Visitors' Gallery. I would kill to get 45 minutes of facetime with the Taoiseach and other senior Ministers.


Given that the Taoiseach and these Ministers are good men who would support tobacco control, how did this meeting happen? The smuggling explanation just does not wash. After all, the principal commercial victims of tobacco smuggling are retailers, not manufacturers.


Repository Staff Only: item control page