Speeches

Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin T.D. Minister for Health and Children at the opening of the seminar on the Costs and Productivity Impact of Tobacco Use

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to welcome all of you here today to this seminar on the Costs and Productivity Impact of Tobacco Use organised by the Office of Tobacco Control. I would like to extend a particular welcome to our speakers and the key note speaker Robert Welte from the German Institute of Health Economics and Health Care Management. Robert´s area of specialisation includes assessment of the costs of smoking and the development of standardised methods of estimating indirect costs. We look forward to his presentation and thank him for his willingness to take time out from his busy schedule to share his expertise with us here today.

This seminar continues the excellent record of the Office of Tobacco Control in organising quality events on various aspects of tobacco control and related subjects by making full use of a wide range of local and international expertise. The list of speakers at the seminar is formidable. All of us with an interest in tobacco control whether politicians, trade unionists, economists, public administrators, lawyers, academics, researchers or health professionals should be able to benefit from today´s proceedings.

As Minister for Health and Children I am fully aware of the enormous burden that the consumption of tobacco products directly imposes on our health care system through active and passive smoking. Tobacco smoke is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in Ireland. Medical evidence has repeatedly confirmed tobacco as a cause of cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke), common cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthmatic attacks, low birth babies and sudden infant death syndrome. About 7000 deaths in Ireland are attributable each year to tobacco related illness.

The State assumes most of the costs of health care and tackling the tobacco epidemic is a Government approved public health priority. A significant number of beds in our acute hospitals are occupied by people with tobacco related illnesses. Effective measures to reduce the incidence of smoking related illness are essential if this burden of tobacco related ill health is to be reduced. Even a modest reduction in this area will result in significant health gains.

Less is known about the indirect costs of tobacco consumption and the agenda here today will make a significant contribution in this area. A number of international studies and various methodologies for estimating costs to employers and society will be presented. Other contributions will include the costs of employees smoking in the workplace, the perception of workplace smoking, economic data on tobacco, smoking prevalence, Northern Ireland´s tobacco action plan, tobacco control in a health board and secondhand smoke and ventilation.

In the area of tobacco control and public health policy we live in interesting times. The last few years have seen enormous strides being made nationally, at European level and globally. The notable achievements that spring to mind are the unanimous adoption on 21 May this year by the member countries of the World Health Organisation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This historic ground breaking international treaty sets the scene to afford protection to many millions of people around the world from the devastating impact of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. We have always advocated strong international measures on tobacco control. I have recently signed this treaty on behalf of Ireland. The treaty will make a significant contribution to protecting future generations from the predatory practices of the global tobacco industry.

 

At EU level two important Directives in the area of tobacco control were adopted, the Directive on Manufacture, Presentation and Sale of Tobacco Products which among other things requires much larger, more visible and effective health warnings on cigarette packs and provides for member states to make use of graphic warnings. A new Directive prohibiting tobacco advertising and related sponsorship was also adopted which will deny the tobacco industry direct access particularly to young persons through the print and other media. In Ireland we have implemented a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship since July 2000.

Ireland will be assuming the Presidency of the European Union in January of next year and plans are underway to hold a major conference in the Mid-West region on tobacco control during our presidency. The Office of Tobacco Control will be using their considerable expertise and organisational skills in helping to prepare for this conference. We have always supported the need for a strong unified approach from the EU on tobacco control and health. Many countries in the developing world look to the EU to initiate strong measures in this vital area of public health. The Irish presidency will be an opportunity to further that aim. We will also be welcoming to Ireland the new members of the European Union from May 2004 and I look forward to their participation in our conference.

A significant development on the home front is the prohibition on smoking in the workplace which I announced in January this year. From January 2004 smoking will be prohibited in the indoor workplace. The primary purpose of the prohibition is to protect workers and the public from exposure to harmful toxic environmental tobacco smoke.

I am proceeding with this important public health initiative based on recommendations contained in the “Report on the Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) in the Workplace”. The report was prepared by an independent scientific working group commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority and published in January 2003.

There is a consensus within the international scientific community on the danger to health of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The World Health Organisation has classified environmental tobacco smoke as a Class A carcinogen. The damaging effect of tobacco smoke on human health is indisputable and it is a cause of ill health and mortality in healthy non smokers.

The prohibition was announced a year in advance of the starting period to allow a reasonable time for employers, businesses and the public to adapt to the changes required. The prohibition has given rise to much debate in the media on the whole question of tobacco and health and this is to be welcomed. Some in the hospitality sector have expressed concerns over a possible drop in numbers of customers in hotels, restaurants and bars. However, there are many people who are unable to avail of these facilities because of the hazards of tobacco smoke. Indeed it is common enough for people visiting facilities to have to leave earlier than intended as the atmosphere deteriorates due to smoking.

We must remember in particular the staff in the hospitality sector many of whom have to spend their working hours in a dangerous unpleasant smoke filled environment. The new health and safety measure being introduced is primarily about being able to work and socialise in a clean healthy smoke free environment. That indeed is a pleasant prospect that will have health benefits for all concerned. No one can be in any doubt that working for a smoke free environment is a positive goal that will result in many benefits for all of us and particularly for future generations

Finally I would like to pay tribute to the Office of Tobacco Control on the great effort undertaken to organise today´s seminar and to congratulate them on the launching of their new website this week. The new site will, among other things, be a valuable source of information on smoking prevalence in Ireland on an ongoing basis.

I would like to declare the seminar open and wish all participants a productive and rewarding day.