Home > Dail Eireann debate. Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014: Second stage (resumed) (continued).

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Public Health (Standard Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014: Second stage (resumed) (continued). (03 Jul 2014)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Question again put: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: I am sharing time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Seamus Healy. 

Acting Chairman (Deputy Terence Flanagan) Is that agreed? Agreed. 

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan We are all very aware of the consequences of smoking. Somebody who smokes today does so in the full knowledge of the possible consequences for his or her health. While I do not smoke and have never done so, both of my parents were heavy smokers for all of their adult lives. Of course they started to smoke at a time when no one was aware of the health risks of smoking. They both enjoyed smoking too much to give it up. Unfortunately, they paid the price when they died in their early 70s from smoking-related illnesses. There is a part of me that can accept the adult decision to smoke. I know there are Deputies in this House who enjoy smoking. However, I think we have to do all we can from a prevention and education perspective to discourage young people, in particular, from smoking. We should also give those who wish to give up smoking every encouragement and incentive to do so.

  The statistics in this regard are frightening. The explanatory memorandum that accompanies this Bill informs us that "tobacco smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in Ireland" and that "approximately €500 million of health expenditure in Ireland is directly due to smoking related diseases". I know the Minister has taken a very firm stand against the lobbying powers of the tobacco companies. We have one of the highest smoking rates in Europe. The explanatory memorandum states that "smoking prevalence in Ireland remains high at 22%", but I have seen reports that suggest that the figure is closer to 28% or 29%. I have observed from my work as a teacher and through my involvement in youth work that the number of young boys who smoke has decreased, but the number of young girls who smoke has undoubtedly increased. This initiative will not work on its own. It has to be part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to controlling smoking nationally. It is obvious that a multi-pronged approach is needed.

  It is notable that this legislation is supported by a number of children's and health charities, some of which presented some interesting evidence in a comprehensive briefing document. They argued that if cigarette packets are the same drab colour, size and shape, it will result in a reduction in the number of smokers. I have my doubts about that. If somebody wants to smoke, I do not think it will matter to them what size, shape or colour the packet is. The charities referred to some evidence on plain packaging from New Zealand, Scotland, Brazil and Canada. There is no doubt that drab plain packaging will be less attractive than branded cigarette packaging, but the question of whether that will cause people to stop buying cigarettes is a different matter, given that nicotine and cigarettes are highly addictive. The charities also suggested that plain packaging will eliminate the tobacco industry's last great marketing tool. I have some doubts in that regard, in light of the amount of money tobacco companies spend on marketing. I am quite sure other marketing tools will be found to boost cigarette sales. That is why I am arguing for a much more holistic and comprehensive approach.

  This is a very lucrative business. In that context, I was quite bemused to read Simon Carswell reporting in The Irish Times that "a US congressman has written again to the Irish Ambassador in Washington urging the Government to scrap plans to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes". It seems that the congressman in question is arguing that this legislation will restrict "the intellectual property of legal products". Given that he represents the state of Virginia, which is home to the world’s second largest tobacco company, which employs approximately 4,000 people in Virginia, I suggest that he has a vested interest in writing this letter. While I am totally in favour of strategies that will lead to a decrease in the number of smokers, I am somewhat dubious or sceptical about the claim that plain packaging will lead to a real reduction in the number of smokers in the absence of other strategies to bring about the tobacco-free Ireland that the Minister is supporting and that I would certainly also like to see.

  Australia is often lauded as a success story even though there are conflicting reports about the effect of plain packaging there. It depends on who one believes. According to one source, the number of calls to the Australian quit line increased by 78% after the introduction of standardised packaging. That source did not confirm how many of those people actually succeeded in giving up cigarettes. Furthermore, I understand that the calls in question were made in the months of January and February, which is a traditional time of the year for people to try to give up smoking. According to an alternative source, in the first year after the introduction of plain packaging Australia, some 59 million more cigarettes and roll-you-own products were purchased by comparison with the previous year. What is the truth? There is a need for reliable data that is provided independent of all the lobbies.....

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