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

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

It has been estimated that there are 7,000 smoking-related deaths in Ireland each year, most of which are preventable. While this is a frightening statistic, the reality of the huge amount of ill health and suffering caused by smoking and its effects is even more devastating.

Kick the Habit Competition

The Construction Workers Health Trust estimates 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 “Kick the Habit” 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 my Department´s Advice Kit plus leaflets with tips for quitting produced by the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society. Of course The National Quitline, and text service, is also available.

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 committed to further encourage people;

  • not to take up the habit, and
  • for those who do smoke to quit.

Benefits for Those Who Quit Smoking

In 1930, researchers in Cologne, Germany, established a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking. Cancers and circulatory diseases, are the top two killers of Irish people, accounting for about 2 out of every 3 deaths. We know that half of today´s smokers will die prematurely.

However, we are also aware that half of all smokers are “seriously concerned about the effect smoking is having on their health”. I am aware that 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, including the NICO campaign, was developed in partnership with my Department, the Irish Cancer Society and the regional health boards. This campaign targets the whole population to encourage smokers to stop smoking and non-smokers not to start.

To aid and abet the positive approach to anti-smoking adopted by the campaign, an advice kit and a quitline run by the Irish Cancer Society were integrated with all communications which offer the smoker personal support and a simple, easily understood methodical plan to help give up smoking. These services are widely used by smokers and as an aid by health promotion professionals.

Smoking Cessation Services

Health boards have recruited approximately 26 additional smoking cessation officers in the last three years to increase the boards support to individuals who 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 October 2002, over 115,000 prescriptions have been issued to medical card holders at a total cost of about€4.2 million.

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 €132 million and €54 million since their respective launches in November 1996 and July 1999.


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 gain. It is encouraging to see that on average almost 30% of participants who quit smoking in previous years remain non-smokers. This rate of success offers encouragement to everyone participating this year.

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