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Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012: Committee stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012: Committee stage. (19 Dec 2013)

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


Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill." 

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: We know the Minister supports the legislation. Senators Crown, Daly and I put forward the Bill and we debated it in the House in May 2012, 19 months ago. It was a constructive debate that was supported by all and I felt we were going places. We have met since and I can catalogue the meetings and the contact back and forth, but we have not made progress.
 
  I thank the Leader for allowing us as Members time to table amendments following queries raised by other Departments through the Department of Health. We tabled amendments in an effort to progress the Bill. I believe this is a simple measure. Of course we must examine issues like the presumption of age and the rebuttable presumption. As I said to the Minister's officials, I have prepared a paper on the issue of presumption of age. The matter can be dealt with by the inclusion of a rebuttable presumption and that is what we are trying to do. There are several instances of it in law such as section 32 of the Child Care Act 1991 and section 53(1) of the Children Act 2001. The provision exists in legislation so why can we not progress the Bill? I have questions. As Senator Crown has joined us, I offer him the floor and I will rejoin the debate later.
 
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): We are debating section 1. Is section 1 agreed?
 
Senator John Crown: I ask the House for a 90 second sos. I misread the Order of Business and thought that we were not debating the legislation. I need to have a quick chat with Senator van Turnhout. May I have one minute? Is my request in order?
 
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Senator Barrett wishes to make a contribution.
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): The Senator can debate the section after Senator Barrett.
 
Senator Sean D. Barrett:  I welcome the Minister and his interest in the affairs of the Seanad is appreciated. Senator Crown is the expert on health in the House but I will make a few observations from the transport point of view. Let us examine the penalty points system and the use of mobile telephones. Mobile telephone usage is the single most important element. Quite rightly, the authorities and the Garda Síochána, view people on mobile telephones as a major transport hazard. It is a major source of penalty points and fines for those involved due to a fear that people will be distracted from driving. From the transport point of view, somebody opening a packet of cigarettes, finding matches or a lighter to light them, flicking ashes and discarding the contents, typically out of the window, is much more damaging in traffic terms than encounters with a mobile telephone. Smoking involves many extra transactions. We take seriously the use of a mobile telephone in a car because we want to prevent accidents. As a result, we have reduced the number of fatalities on Irish roads from 650 down to about 160 last year but, unfortunately, there will be more. The Minister and Senator Crown are the experts on health but I am a transport economist and think there is a strong case for the control of people smoking in cars. Smoking is more dangerous than using a mobile telephone in a vehicle, of which the Garda, the Minister for Justice and Equality and others take a dim view. Penalty points have proved successful as a preventative measure in reducing fatalities, especially the deaths of young men under 35 for whom car accidents used to be the major source of ill health and death. The number has been reduced dramatically. Is tobacco smoking in cars not a danger in terms of safety and health promotion? All Senators are keen to have more safety and health promotion.  

 

I will hand over to Senator Crown and will allow him to speak. The transport aspects of the legislation are very good and I lend them my support.

 

Senator John Crown: I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister. I apologise to the Minister for my apparent inattention. I meant no disrespect by my late arrival. I misunderstood the Order of Business and thought we would debate the health insurance Bill for longer. I had wanted to make a contribution on that legislation too, but more anon.

 

  As sponsors of the Bill, we have taken the unusual step of bringing forward Committee Stage amendments that reflect two issues. First, we are cognisant of the public and welcome the support the Minister gave us when we debated the legislation on Second Stage. It gave us a great boost to our morale, as legislators, that the Government accepted back bench Opposition legislation on merit, a procedure that is somewhat unusual in this Parliament. I am truly very grateful to the Minister for doing so. We wanted the opportunity to debate it again with him and that is one of the reasons for advancing amendments at this stage. Our interaction with the rest of the health service has been less productive in respect of the Bill in the 20-odd months since we first proposed the legislation on First and Second Stages in the House, back in May 2012.

 

  I could go through a turgid recitation of the various meetings that have taken place. There have been many but I will just bring one to the Minister's attention. The most recent formal meeting took place a year ago and was with the most senior authorities in the Department of Health. At that time we were promised we would have what they called the heads of the Bill, which I believe was their way of tabling Committee Stage amendments, by the end of January 2013. That was almost one year ago and nothing has happened. Since then it has been indicated that the Minister's very welcome plain packaging Bill has a higher priority. He will find strong support from me and I suspect across the House for his legislation. However, there was not a great degree of resources or attention put into passing our legislation. We believe the Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill is relatively simple legislation that would give the Minister a quick win in terms of passing a law to advance tobacco control.

 

The Minister mentioned concerns in his Second Stage speech in the House about what he described as serious flaws in the Bill, but we were delighted that he was prepared to advance the legislation to Committee Stage in order that we could avail of the expertise in the various Departments to correct, amend and strengthen the Bill and ensure it was passed. When we first met after the Second Stage in May 2012 with several of the Minister's colleagues with responsibility for tobacco control, concerns were expressed about constitutional issues, such as whether one could smoke in a private place and things like that, although that concern seems to have been dismissed fairly quickly. There was a substantial amount of technical comment on issues related to how the Garda would enforce the Bill because, ultimately, it is its members who must enforce the legislation. Our amendments today address that by incorporating a reference to the Bill in the Road Traffic Act and allowing the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to introduce fixed charges as she or he sees fit in terms of the enforcement of the Bill. We also needed to go into some detail about fines and how they would be codified, and that is dealt with in our amendments. There was a question that perhaps the European technical standards directive would be invoked, but the opinion is that it would not. There was a feeling that the Bill, once passed, could be commenced relatively quickly.

[For the full debate, click on this link]

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