Press Release

Minister publishes report on “The Childhood Addiction”

Smoking is childhood addiction, with the majority of smokers already addicted in their teens, the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin TD, said today (7th March, 2000). The Minister was speaking at the launch in Dublin of the report of the Tobacco Free Policy Review Group.

“Eleven and twelve year olds are getting hooked – in huge numbers – on something that’s going to kill half of them”, said the Minister. “Fifty years from now, when they examine how we took care of our children, I don’t want them to say we stood back and let them get hooked on a killer substance”.

The Tobacco Free Policy Review Group was set up to carry out a fundamental review of health and tobacco and make recommendations to the Minister, who described their Report as “substantial and detailed”.

The Report says there’s no point in banning cigarettes since what would result from a ban would be a flourishing black market. Instead, it says, four linked actions need to be taken and sustained.

  1. Attitudes towards smoking must be changed.
  2. People trying to quit smoking have to have specific supports to help them.
  3. Environmental controls on smoking must be strengthened.
  4. Children need to be prevented from starting tobacco use, and helped to stop if they have already started.

The Minister said he planned to move on the recommendations of the report immediately. This would involve both health promotion, legislation and examining the possibility of putting supports for quitters into place.

There was, he said, a popular belief that Government is prepared to collude with the tobacco industry because of the contribution cigarette taxes make to the economy.

“I do not care what impact on the Exchequer aiming for a tobacco-free society would have”, he said. “I believe that’s the only moral objective we can have, as a Department, as a Government and as a society. Another myth is that if you get the facts out there, smokers will instantly stop smoking. Any of you who are smokers know to the differ. Not only is nicotine a powerful, powerful addictive chemical, but the tobacco industry for generations has pumped so much money into the promotion of their products that a few facts – no matter how shocking those facts may be – a few facts are not going to roll back the power of that spend”.

Not only had the tobacco industry spent money like water, he suggested, but the industry had used psychology in a cynical way.

He quoted a confidential marketing document generated by the world’s leading tobacco company, which said that smoking for the beginner is a symbolic act, through which the young person indicates that they’re tough, and are breaking away from parental control. The memo noted that as soon as the force of the initial psychological symbolism subsides, the pharmacological effects take over to sustain the habit.

That sophisticated approach was what Ireland had to fight, if we accepted World Health Organisation definitions of smoking as a global epidemic.

The Minister stated that:

  • Tobacco products in future won’t be sold to people under 18.
  • Prices would be maintained at a high level.
  • Packet sizes of less than twenty would be banned.
  • He is going to outlaw ads and sponsorship in line with the EU Directive, starting in July.
  • More resources will go to health boards to improve compliance with the law and to grant-aid local community based tobacco free initiatives.