Speech by Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children at the announcement of the commencement date for the smoke-free workplace regulations

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome you all to today´s launch to announce the date for the implementation of the smoke-free at work regulations and I particularly want to welcome Tom Beegan, CEO of the Health and Safety Authority and Dr Michael Boland, Chairman of the Office of Tobacco Control.

29th March 2004 will be a very significant date for all Irish citizens, because from that date, most enclosed places of work in Ireland will be smoke-free. This is a positive, progressive health and safety measure, which will bestow positive benefits to workers and the general public alike.

It is just over a year since I made the initial announcement that I would be introducing a ban on the smoking of tobacco products in the workplace. I am pleased that the way is now clear to enforce this important legislation, which has the overwhelming support of the majority of people in Ireland, smokers and non-smokers alike.

The media coverage and public debate generated by the smoke free at work regulations is a clear indication of just how important this issue has become and I am confident that this landmark legislation will contribute towards protecting the health of the nation.

From a public health perspective the widespread media coverage, both in the domestic market and internationally, and the substantial public debate surrounding this issue is to be welcomed.

Smoke-Free Workplaces – a Health Priority

It is clear that this Government has prioritised tackling the huge negative impact that tobacco products have on the health of the nation – be this an impact from active smoking or from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Second-hand smoke is the term we use to convey the simple message that people are unwittingly exposed to a toxic pollutant that is not of their causing. Quite frankly; people should not have to be unwillingly exposed to this hazardous product in enclosed workplaces.

Second-hand smoke is also referred to as ETS or passive smoke. However, it has become more and more obvious that people are not, in fact, passive about being exposed to unwanted tobacco smoke. Indeed, there has been a ground swell of support from many sectors, political, public and private that has been visible, vocal and convincing.

The bottom line is you don´t have to be a smoker to get cancer from cigarette smoking. You can get it if you were never a smoker. You can get it from other people´s smoke.

  • Passive smoke exposure increases the risk of stroke by 82%
  • Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace increases the risk of lung cancer by up to 40%
  • Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace increases the risk heart disease
  • A non-smoker living with a smoker has a 25% increased risk of lung cancer and a 30% increased risk of heart disease
  • Standing in the path of a smoker or their cigarette or being in a room in which there are smokers means being exposed to at least 50 agents known to cause cancer and other chemicals that increase blood pressure, damage the lungs and cause abnormal kidney function.

There are still those in the tobacco industry, who, putting self-interest above public interest try to refute or play down the risk to health from exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. However, most people have made up their minds on the issue and rightly expect that Government will take the steps necessary to deal with the problem. Health and quality of life issues are important to people in their place of work. The bottom line is that regular exposure to second hand tobacco smoke, in enclosed workplaces, is a cause of ill health, which is actually preventable.

Report on Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace

I wish to make it clear that this initiative is based on independent advice from experts that is emphatic.

The Report on the Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace, published in January 2003, was commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority. The report was prepared by an independent expert scientific group and the conclusions are quite blunt on the risks to health from tobacco smoke and on what needs to be done to protect employees. The facts speak for themselves:

  • Second hand tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems.
  • Employees need to be protected from exposure to second-hand smoke at work.
  • Current ventilation technology is ineffective at removing the risk to health.
  • Legislative measures are required to protect workers from the adverse effects of exposure.

Legislative and Regulatory Framework

As Minister for Health and Children, it is my responsibility to ensure that the necessary legislative and regulatory framework is in place to provide for the high level of public health protection needed in this area.

Following the report´s recommendations, I announced what I was setting out to do last January and that was to create enclosed smoke-free working environments. The ensuing necessary regulatory measures have been flagged for over a year, in order to prepare people for the adjustment that will be needed for this tobacco free initiative.

Under an EU Transparency Directive, my Department notified the European Commission, in draft form, in April of 2003 of the measure we would be taking for a smoke-free workplace.


No objections to this were raised by any other Member States. The Commission was subsequently notified of two amendments to the draft regulations in November 2003. This was to allow for exemptions for certain facilities including prisons and outdoor work areas, in addition to psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, certain charitable institutions and sleeping accommodation in hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts. This was done to clarify the position in relation to facilities, which are deemed places of residence for some people.

Because of these amendments, which provided greater clarity, it was necessary to change the commencement date for the introduction of this measure.

The two standstill periods for the amendments ended on the 4th February and 16th February 2004, respectively. European Union Member States have not put forward any reservations over the changes made.

Consequently, we are now in a position to proceed with this significant tobacco free initiative. Accordingly, the smoking of tobacco products in enclosed places of work will no longer be allowed from 29 March 2004.

It is important to remember that a right to an Exemption in the workplace does not constitute a right to smoke in the workplace. Every employer has a duty of care to an employee, an exemption only confers the right not to be penalised for non-enforcement. Health and safety remain a priority.

A Positive Approach to Compliance and Implementation

I acknowledge that adapting to the new measure will require some adjustment, particularly for those in workplaces which, up to now, have not benefited from the existing statutory controls on the smoking of tobacco products. However, I am confident that people will adjust, just as they did when cinemas, theatres, hairdressing salons, airplanes and numerous other settings went smoke free.

To help prepare for this measure, my Department and the relevant Agencies have developed a national public information campaign, entitled “Smoke-Free at Work”, which will be rolled out across TV, radio and print media. In addition, a series of print materials for workplaces, employees and the general public will be available over the coming week or so and these will available on line at the new Smoke-Free at Work website, which will go live from today. The campaign will provide guidance and information to all sectors of society in preparation for March 29th.

Information will also be available on line from the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority websites. A Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed by the two agencies which will help to ensure compliance with the new measure. Workplace locations traditionally visited by the Health and Safety Authority will now also have to comply with the new smoke-free measure as part of their general compliance with health and safety requirements. Monitoring compliance with the smoke-free requirements in the food and hospitality area will be carried out by officers from health boards and the Office of Tobacco Control.

The emphasis of the campaign will be on compliance building and in harnessing the widespread public support and goodwill that exists for a smoke-free environment.

Most people are law abiding and responsible and I am confident that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will respect the new measure. The trade union movement is strongly supportive and I am encouraged by the willingness shown by employer´s organisations in the various sectors in recommending compliance with the new measure to their members.

Non-smoking as the Norm

It´s not that long ago that smoking was considered as the norm, despite growing health concerns over the effects of tobacco smoke. Government intervention on public health grounds, across a wide front, has achieved much in reducing tobacco smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke.

The message that exposure to tobacco smoke is a significant health risk is getting through. Being able to work and socialise in a clean, smoke-free environment is now seen as a positive development with many benefits for the community and for employer and employee. Smoke-free policies are proving more and more popular not just nationally but on a global scale. We have arrived at a stage where a non-smoking environment is now being regarded as the norm in our society. Many workplaces are already smoke-free and I commend the initiative shown by employers and employees in this area. Indeed I will take this opportunity to ask and encourage other workplaces to consider going smoke-free before 29th March, to help demonstrate their support for this measure.

Helping Smokers Quit

Since the smoke-free workplace initiative was first announced there has been an increasing use of the services available for smokers wishing to quit. An enhanced smoking cessation programme involving high profile media campaigns is ongoing and the National Smokers Quitline is well established and widely used. To date, the number of smokers who have availed of the Quitline service totals over 14,000 and now that the implementation date has been announced, we do anticipate an increase in traffic to this valuable service.

Better Health for Future Generations

I am confident that this measure will provide a health legacy, not just for current but also, for future generations who thankfully, will never know what it was like to work in an enclosed smoke-filled environment.

Ensuring that workplaces are a clean, safe environment, free of tobacco smoke will make a significant contribution to the health and quality of life of our population and for future generations.

I would like to thank all of our pro-health partners for working with my Department and supporting this measure fully, and at all times. Their unwavering support has helped to fuel and maintain my commitment towards this initiative.

Ladies and gentleman, the speculation and debate are over. It is now time for employer sectors and the public to prepare for the successful implementation of smoke-free workplaces.