Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, at the launch of the “Kick the Habit” Competition

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today, Ash Wednesday, a day traditionally linked with no smoking, to launch “Kick the Habit”. This competition organised by the Construction Workers Health Trust, now in its fourth year, aims to reduce the relatively high numbers of construction workers who smoke.

This year alone it is estimated that 7,000 people in Ireland will die from smoking related diseases. While this is a frightening statistic, the reality of the huge amount of ill health and grief caused by smoking and its effects is even more devastating.

Smoking Prevalence

30% of Irish people, over the age of 15 years smoke. The incidence of smoking is greatest among people who are economically disadvantaged. Smoking therefore contributes much to the inequalities in health status evident in Ireland.

Since taking office this Government has tackled smoking, and not simply smokers, at many levels – legislative, environmental, educational and economic. There is no single solution to help smokers stop, nor can we rely on a sudden change in social acceptability.

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.

Effects of Smoking

In 1930, researchers in Cologne, Germany, established a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking. Extensive medical, epidemiological and other research since then has reinforced the conclusion that smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, several forms of cancer and is implicated in a variety of other diseases.

Cancers and circulatory diseases, associated with smoking are the top two killers of Irish people, accounting for about 2 out of every 3 deaths.

Benefits for Those Who Quit Smoking

Half of all smokers are “seriously concerned about the effect smoking is having on their health”. It is extremely difficult to break the smoking addiction but the rewards are significant and immediate for those who succeed. Apart from the financial rewards, within

  • 20 minutes blood pressure and body temperature return to normal;
  • 1 day the risk of heart attack decreases;
  • 2 days ability to smell and taste improves;
  • 2 to 3 months lungs become more healthy and lung function increases up to 30%;and
  • 1 year risk of sudden heart attack is almost cut in half.

Within ten years the risk of heart attack and strokes becomes almost the same as a non-smoker and the risk of cancer drops significantly.

Health Promotion

Smoking has been the largest one-dimensional topic focused upon by the Health Promotion Unit of my Department. The national ongoing Break the Habit campaign was developed in partnership with my Department, the Irish Cancer Society and the regional health boards. Launched in December 1998 it targets the whole population to encourage smokers to stop smoking and non-smokers not to start. Smokers are encouraged to contact a freefone quitline, or to text message, for a comprehensive stop smoking advice kit, free of charge.


Given the concern about the increased prevalence of smoking among teenage girls and young women, a special component of the Break the Habit campaign was developed during 2000 to target teenage girls. This campaign called NICO concentrates on the simple message that smokers are less attractive than non smokers.

Smoking Cessation Services

A multi-faceted response to smoking is recommended in the Cardiovascular Health Strategy to reduce the numbers taking up the habit and to encourage current smokers to quit. Health boards have recruited approximately 20 additional smoking cessation officers in the last two years to increase the boards support to individuals to quit smoking and to provide advice regarding smoking policies and legislation.


In April 2001 I made nicotine replacement therapy available to all medical card holders who smoke. From the launch of nicotine replacement therapy to November 2001, 33,829 prescriptions have been issued to medical card holders at a total cost of about €1 million.

Public Health (Tobacco) Bill 2001

The Public Health (Tobacco) Bill is currently before the Dáil for consideration. The object of this Bill is to provide a new, more comprehensive and strengthened legislative basis for regulating and controlling the sale, marketing and smoking of tobacco products and for enforcing such controls. The Bill provides for a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertisement (with limited exceptions) and on all forms of sponsorship by the tobacco industry. The Bill also includes a prohibition of certain marketing practices including the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to persons under 18 years of age and a provision whereby smoking can be prohibited or restricted in specified places.

National Strategies

The new Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness, provides a framework for addressing the prevention, detection, treatment and rehabilitation from smoking related diseases in Ireland, such as cancer and heart disease. In that context, the Government remains committed to the implementation of the National Cancer and Cardiovascular Strategies which have been allocated €103 million and €46 million since their respective launches in November 1996 and July 1999.

Kick the Habit Competition

These measures have as a central objective of being supportive to dissuading people, especially young people from smoking or encouraging smokers 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%.

An important element for construction workers and indeed others who plan to make today the first day free of tobacco will be willpower and self motivation. However, a key part of the competition I am launching today is that individual support for each participant is provided. Built into this competition is the vital support and encouragement by workmates and others for those aiming to kick the habit. That is why I feel this initiative is so important.

I am calling today on all workmates, family and friends to encourage and support those who are giving up smoking from today, to stay free from tobacco for good.

Available to the public and today´s participants is 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, and text service, is of course available.


I would like to pay tribute to the Construction Workers Health Trust and in particular its Chief Executive, Mr. Willie Ahern and Chairman Mr. Michael Brennan who have been associated with this initiative since its inception. I would also like to thank all others involved in organising today’s event including the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society.

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate previous participants, who were all winners in terms of health gains. It is encouraging to see that 29% of participants who quit smoking in last year´s competition remain non-smokers reflecting a similar trend from previous years. This rate of success offers encouragement to everyone participating this year.

I wish everyone here today and around the country well and every success in your efforts to break the habit for good.