Speeches

Speech by Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, at the launch of the “Construction Workers Quit Smoking Competition” on Wednesday 28th February 2001 at the offices of Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Introduction

I am delighted to be here today, on a day traditionally linked with No Smoking, to launch the “Construction Workers Quit Smoking Competition”. This is the third year of the competition, which aims to reduce the high numbers of construction workers who smoke. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate previous participants, who were all winners in terms of health gains. I would also like to pay particular tribute to Mr Willie Ahern and his Chairman Mr Michael Brennan who have been associated with this initiative since its inception.

In 1999, 30% of those who took part were still non-smokers one year after the competition. 29% of participants who quit smoking in last year’s competition remain non-smokers. These rates of success offer encouragement to everyone participating this year. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in organising today’s event – the Construction Employees Health Trust, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society.

Smoking Prevalence

Attitudes to smoking are changing and I am determined to encourage people, particularly young teenagers, not to take up the habit. Equally, I am anxious to do all that I can to encourage those who do smoke to quit. The Construction Employee Health Trust estimate the percentage of smokers among its workers at 44%, which is very high relative to the national average of 30%, which in turn is high compared to our European counterparts. Smoking is a major risk factor in heart related disease, the greatest single cause of death in Ireland. Cardiovascular Strategy

The incidence of heart related disease in this country is alarmingly high, accounting for 43% of all deaths in 1997. The report of the Cardiovascular Health Strategy Group Building Healthier Hearts, published in July 1999, identified smoking as one of the lifestyle risk factors in developing heart disease. At age 65, Ireland has the lowest life expectancy in the EU due mainly to heart disease. When the Cardiovascular Health Strategy was launched, my Department set a medium term objective to bring our levels of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in line with the EU average at a minimum. Our longer term objective is to reduce our rates to those of the best performers in the EU. The report places considerable emphasis on measures to reduce tobacco consumption in order to reduce the incidence of heart disease in Ireland. The Government’s commitment to reducing the number of smokers in the country and reducing the incidence of heart disease has been displayed through many ways. Ireland needs a Change of Heart

One measure undertaken last year was the launch of the national public awareness campaign called ‘Ireland Needs a Change of Heart’. This mass media campaign about heart health primarily targets the individual and aims to influence lifestyle choices which effect heart health such as smoking, diet and physical activity. The Heart Health handbook, A Handy Guide to a Healthier Heart, is a sixteen page comprehensive handbook which has been produced to advise the public on the lifestyle changes each individual can make to improve their heart health, including stopping smoking. A copy of this handbook was sent to each household in the country in October 2000.

Anti-Smoking Campaigns

Smoking has been the largest one-dimensional topic focused upon by the Health Promotion Unit of my Department because of its clearly proven links to cancer and heart disease. The current anti-smoking campaign Break the Habit For Good was developed in partnership with my Department, the Irish Cancer Society and the regional health boards. Launched in December 1998, it is ongoing and emphasises the positive effect that quitting smoking can have on the individual. Smokers are encouraged to contact a quitline for a comprehensive stop smoking advice kit, free of charge.

The kit includes tips for quitting smoking and for staying stopped. For those seeking local assistance or counselling, the kit contains contact numbers for health board support services and the stop smoking Quitline that provides a counselling phoneline offered through the Irish Cancer Society.

An additional element of the Break the Habit for Good campaign was developed last year to target the growing numbers of female teenagers who continue to take up smoking. The simple message of this element of the campaign is that smokers are less attractive and it uses a range of anti cosmetics presented by a character called NICO who highlights the unappealing aspects of smoking e.g. yellowed teeth and wrinkled skin. The NICO campaign uses TV, radio and outdoor advertising to highlight this message.

Construction Workers Quit Smoking Competition

However, the most creative multi-media campaign imaginable cannot by itself dissuade young people from smoking or encourage smokers to quit. Nor can it provide the necessary support and help needed by the smoker when quitting. It is only through a concerted effort by health professionals and the general public that a reduction in the incidence of smoking can be achieved. That is why I feel this initiative is so important.

A key part of the competition is that individual support for each participant is provided. All participants will receive a Department of Health and Children Advice Kit pack plus leaflets on tips for quitting produced by the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society. The National Quitline is, of course, available. Each participant will be contacted individually within two weeks by the Irish Heart Foundation or the Irish Cancer Society. This contact will be repeated after a three month interval. It is also proposed to undertake a one year follow-up.

Conclusion

I know that the most important element for those who quit will be self motivation and willpower. While most smokers are aware of the risks, they often do not appreciate the health benefits of giving up smoking not only for themselves but also for their families. It is never too late to make positive health choices. Lifestyle changes made even late in life can bring huge health gains. I am therefore calling on workmates to encourage and support those who are giving up smoking today. For my own part, I wish all of you well in your endeavours.