Speeches

Address by Micheál Martin T.D. Minister for Health and Children at opening of Smokers – Attitudes and Behaviours and Cessation

I would like to welcome all of you here today for this seminar on “Smokers – Attitudes and Behaviours and Cessation” organised by the Office of Tobacco Control.

I would like to give a special welcome to all of the speakers on the programme and particularly our keynote speaker Dr. Gregory Connolly, Director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Programme. The Massachusetts Tobacco Control programme started in 1993 and is charged with reducing smoking in the state. Since its inception, overall cigarette consumption has fallen 38% almost three times the national average in the USA. The Programme is widely acknowledged as one of the most successful tobacco control programmes in the world.

I am happy to note that this is not his first visit to us in this capacity. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Dr. Connolly for his ongoing commitment and support for Ireland in the area of tobacco control. His contribution, by making available to us his time, advice and expertise in this vital area of public health, is very significant.

Adverse Impact of Tobacco

The adverse impact of tobacco consumption on human health globally and locally is well documented at this stage. Inhalation of tobacco smoke can kill in many ways including lung cancer and other forms of cancer, heart disease, strokes, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. Smoking tobacco products is one of the most unhealthy things a human being can do.

Recent National and International Measures

In recent years in order to deal with the threat to health from tobacco consumption a range of measures have been agreed at global, European and national level. These measures will provide public health authorities with effective instruments to take comprehensive and strong actions to reduce tobacco consumption and particularly to prevent young people from initiating tobacco use.

These are:-

  • In Ireland the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002. This is the most comprehensive anti-tobacco legislation ever enacted in the State. I will be using powers provided by the Act to introduce a ban on smoking in the workplace next year.
  • at a European level a Directive restricting the manner in which tobacco products are manufactured, sold and presented and A Directive prohibiting advertising of tobacco products. Given the horrendous impact of tobacco on the health of the people of European Union – 500,000 deaths each year it is important that strong anti-tobacco measures are agreed and implemented throughout the EU. These two Directives represent major progress at this level after many years of hard work including the setback of having the original Directive adopted in 1998 on banning advertising overturned in the European Court of Justice. The impact of the Directive on the sale and presentation of tobacco products is already visible here in the much larger, more visible health warnings on cigarette packets.
  • At a global level the recently agreed World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This agreement is truly historic. It is a groundbreaking public health treaty that will control tobacco consumption and supply. The treaty covers taxation, smoking prevention and treatment, illicit trade, advertising, sponsorship and promotion and product regulation. The agreement concludes four years of hard work by member states and will be part of a global strategy to reduce tobacco related disease and death around the world. The agreed text will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2003 for adoption. The text requires signatory parties to implement comprehensive tobacco control programmes at national, regional and local levels. Ireland has long been a strong supporter of the Convention and participated in all of the negotiating sessions.

 

All of these are powerful public health instruments which we must use if we are to be successful in achieving a society free of tobacco use.

For the first time ever in the area of public health and tobacco we have a unique opportunity to roll back the encroaching threat posed by tobacco consumption to our society. For the sake of the health and well being of future generations, this generation must grasp this opportunity now.

Ban on Workplace Smoking

An important step was taken recently here in Ireland with the launch on the 30 January last of the report commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace. The report was blunt in its recommendations on what needs to be done to provide effective protection for all workers. The reality is that there still a significant proportion of the population that don´t work in a safe, smokefree environment.

At the launch I announced that from January of 2004 measures will be in place to prohibit smoking in all work places. The measures will provide a “level playing field” for workers, employers and the public in protecting people from the hazards of environmental tobacco smoke.

The announcement has received widespread support from the public and from many employee and employer organisations and from bodies representing professionals in the field of public health.

Consultation for Change of Culture

Since the announcement I have been engaging in a series of consultations with interested parties regarding the implementation of the measure. I made the announcement well in advance of the implementation date to allow people to prepare the way and make the necessary adjustments.

It will of course require a culture change in many areas but we must not forget that most people don´t smoke and that most people who do are trying to or would like to quit. There are smoking bans in operation at present in numerous workplaces, so extending the controls to include all workplaces is logical particularly in view of the strong recommendations contained in the recent report on workplace exposure.

We must also give encouragement and support to smokers who are trying to quit. Later on today we will hear from one of the speakers details of the views and attitudes of smokers on this matter. Many smokers are supportive of the ban on smoking in places of work. The views of smokers do need to be taken account of in formulating effective measures to assist them in trying to break their harmful addiction.

Possible Impact on Business

Some people, particularly in the hospitality sector and bar trade, have, understandably raised the question of the impact on business of the ban. It has been well documented that the only business whose profits suffer from a ban on workplace smoking is the tobacco industry.

There are many people out there who suffer from a variety of respiratory conditions, many people who don´t like the noxious smell of tobacco which lingers on their clothes for days, many people concerned about the exposure of their children to tobacco smoke, many who simply want to breathe clean air free from the irritant of tobacco smoke who will be able to visit and enjoy facilities previously off limits to them. There are many smokers who will use the new smoke free areas to assist them in their efforts to quit smoking. Smokefree workplaces and public facilities make good business sense.

I would urge all parties who support this tobacco free initiative to continue to publicly support it on an ongoing basis in helping to prepare for the implementation date next year.

Multifaceted Strategy

There is no single measure no matter how comprehensive that will create and sustain the environment necessary to prevent people from starting to smoke and to assist those who have started to stop. Our anti-tobacco strategy will continue to be multifaceted. As long as the tobacco problem exists we will continue to target it in many ways. The implementation of the strategy will in time effect the necessary attitudinal and behavioural changes needed in society to eliminate tobacco usage.

As you will have seen the programme for today´s seminar is very comprehensive. The topics covered include research on smokers, economic models and costs relating to tobacco addiction, an appraisal of cessation services and responses to smokers needs.

I would like to thank the Office of Tobacco Control for their hard work in organising this event. Since the Office was established in 2000 it has performed admirably in this area and has established a high public profile in focusing in a very informative manner on the issues crucial to effective tobacco control policies.

The audience here today is comprised of policy makers, health economists, social partners and the tobacco control community. I would like to declare this seminar open and hope all of you will benefit from the excellent speakers here today.