Address by Mr. Tim O´Malley T.D. Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the opening of the conference “The Economics of Tobacco Control and Irish Fiscal Policy” – Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to welcome all of you here to-day, and particularly our visitors from overseas, to the opening of our conference on “The Economics of Tobacco Control and Irish Fiscal Policy” . I hope your visit to Dublin and your participation in the conference will be enjoyable and beneficial.

We are particularly honoured to have with us as keynote speaker at the conference Prof. Frank J. Chaloupka Director of the Health Policy Centre at the University of Illinois. I would like to thank you and the other speakers for giving of your time and expertise. It is very much appreciated by us.

The Tobacco Epidemic

The global community is faced with many challenges in trying to improve the health status of its people. One of the biggest challenges is that posed by the consumption of tobacco products. The enormous negative impact of tobacco smoking on the health and well being of global society is staggering.

The World Health Organisation has outlined clearly the size and nature of the threat posed by the tobacco epidemic.

  • There are 1.1 billion people in the world who use tobacco products.
  • Eleven thousand people die every day due to tobacco related illness including heart disease and lung cancer. We in Ireland suffer about 7,000 deaths each year from smoking related illnesses
  • Tobacco will soon become the leading cause of death world-wide.
  • In many countries tobacco is the largest preventable cause of premature death.
  • Tobacco smoke causes disease and death in non-smokers.
  • Tobacco is a significant burden to individuals, family and society through death, illness and medical costs.
  • Most smokers initiate tobacco use as children.

This is an appalling trend which has to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Even a modest reduction in the huge burden of disease caused by tobacco would result in significant health gains.

Today, tobacco smoking represents the most extensively documented cause of disease ever investigated in the history of biomedical research. Tobacco is a unique product that kills half of those who use it regularly. Therefore unique measures are required to deal with the tobacco epidemic.

Public health authorities in many countries have grappled with the problem of how to prevent people from taking up smoking and how to get smokers to break their addiction once established.

The global tobacco industry, through it’s own extensive scientific research, has known for many decades of the dangerous nature of the product. The strength and nature of the addiction caused by nicotine in tobacco products was also known to the industry. The public were not informed by the industry of the real facts about the dangers of tobacco consumption. It is only in recent years that public health authorities have come to fully understand the true nature of nicotine addiction and the powerful marketing skills of the tobacco industry to induce young people to smoke. Once young people become hooked the tobacco industry works hard to maintain that addiction.

Much information has come to light in the last decade about the unscrupulous behaviour of tobacco companies with regard to targeting young people with their products. Documentation disclosed from within the tobacco industry during litigation proceedings in the United States shows an industry doing everything it can to encourage smoking and to establish and maintain tobacco brand loyalties particularly with young smokers.

At the same time the tobacco industry, using it’s vast financial resources, worked to undermine and weaken public health policies throughout the world. The tobacco industry is always concerned that anti-tobacco public health initiatives will restrict it´s ability to aggressively promote and market it’s products. Tobacco companies cast doubt on numerous scientific studies carried out showing the deadly effects of their products. The World Health Organisation was targeted by the industry such was their concern over the likely impact of WHO policies on tobacco sales. This is a tribute to the sterling work of the WHO in combating the tobacco epidemic.

Now in the first decade of the new millennium we have a much clearer picture of what needs to be done to deny the tobacco industry access to young persons. The tobacco message must be replaced with a health message so that the goal of a tobacco free society can become a reality.

Economic Interventions

There is no single solution to the tobacco problem, our response must be comprehensive and multifaceted. Measures to reduce demand for tobacco products are highly cost effective and high on the list of public health “best buys”. One of the most effective public health instruments in reducing tobacco consumption and particularly in preventing children from experimenting with tobacco products are economic interventions particularly on price control.

The World Health Organisation and the World Bank have recommended high prices as being very effective in curbing tobacco consumption. The World Bank in the landmark report published in 1999 “Curbing the Epidemic” dealt with the many concerns expressed by states over possible negative economic consequences of interventions in this area. Some states have delayed taking concerted action to reduce tobacco consumption because of these economic concerns. The World Bank report made clear that many of these concerns are unfounded and exaggerated.

Position in Ireland

In Ireland price control of tobacco products particularly through taxation measures is used as a public health instrument. Prices of tobacco products are kept high with almost 80% of the cost of a packet of cigarettes being taxes.

An unfortunate side effect of this has been the impact on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of substantial tobacco price increases and consequent inflation rates. Increases in tobacco products are included in the list of goods and services used in compiling the CPI. This is an issue that the Minister for Health and Children and the Government acknowledge must be dealt with if we are to retain high tobacco prices as an effective public health instrument. Removal of tobacco products from the CPI is necessary and the Government is committed to reaching agreement on this with the employers organisations and the trade unions. Additional revenue raised through tobacco taxes can be used in treatment and prevention of cancer and heart disease.

The benefits of price increase are straightforward. Increasing the price of cigarettes is the single most effective method of reducing consumption. High prices induce some smokers to quit and prevent other individuals, particularly youngsters and the less well off who are price sensitive, from starting. It is estimated that increasing the price of a packet of cigarettes by 10% will reduce demand by about 4% in high income countries and 8% in low income countries. From the public health perspective this translates in lives saved and illness prevented. Some of the speakers in their presentations will go into greater detail on all aspects of tobacco, economics and health.

The Conference and Agenda

This conference is the first of its kind to be held in Ireland. I would like to pay tribute to the Office of Tobacco Control for their hard work and commitment in helping to organise and promote this event.

As you will have seen from the conference brochure the schedule for to-day is very comprehensive. The topics covered include economics, marketing, smuggling and illicit trade, taxation and tobacco and the price index. Participants include international experts on economics, taxation, health officials, politicians, policy makers, physicians, administrators, enforcement officers, marketing experts and agencies and groups with an interest in tobacco control.

The conference is an ideal opportunity for those dealing with the tobacco epidemic to share their experiences and knowledge to the benefit of all concerned.

We must continue to increase our knowledge and expertise on this grave public health problem and to repudiate the efforts of the tobacco industry to undermine all aspects of tobacco control.

Finally, it gives me great pleasure to declare this conference open and I wish it every success.