Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, for the launch of the “Feel Free to say No” Campaign


I am delighted to be associated with this initiative, which will be very effective in communicating the dangers of smoking to young people.

For years the tobacco industry has consistently exploited sporting events in order to promote a harmful and socially destructive product. It is gratifying to see that sports and in particular the World Cup are now promoting a positive health message to young people through the “Feel Free to Say No” Campaign.

International research from the US and Australia has shown that anti-smoking sponsorship of sporting events is up to four times more effective than tobacco sponsorship in terms of sending a particular message to the population.

And we need to send a clear, sustained message to the population, particularly young people: Nicotine is a powerful, highly addictive and dangerous drug, and tobacco smoking poses a major challenge to the health of the nation.

Dangers of Smoking

Smoking related illnesses account for about 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year. In addition the effects of tobacco smoking impose a heavy burden on our health services. One in two smokers who smoke regularly will die from smoking related diseases.

Tobacco is a significant burden to individuals, families and society through death, illness and medical costs.

About 30 per cent of the adult population smoke but as a nation we are starting younger and becoming addicted earlier, mostly in our teens. Young girls, in particular, represent a major concern with 40 per cent of girls aged 15-17 from low-income backgrounds smoking.

Anti Smoking Measures

As a society we simply cannot sit idly by while our children are getting hooked on a killer substance. Smoking tobacco is one of the unhealthiest things a human can do. Our success in improving the health status of the nation is linked to reducing the level of tobacco usage and in preventing young people from smoking.

The Government has taken many positive measures. Given the concern about the increased prevalence of smoking particularly among teenagers, a special component of the Break the Habit campaign was developed during 2000 to target teenagers. This campaign called NICO concentrates on the simple message that smokers are less attractive than non-smokers.

In legislative terms, The Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 is the most comprehensive anti-tobacco legislation ever enacted in this country and confirms the Government’s commitment to the battle against tobacco.

This act provides for among other things;

  • the establishment of the Office for Tobacco Control
  • an end to all forms of product display and in-store advertising
  • extension of existing prohibitions on tobacco advertising to the print media
  • all retailers are required to register with the Office of Tobacco Control.
  • the legal age at which a person can be sold tobacco products has been raised to eighteen years.

Enforcement officers will be given all the necessary powers to ensure there is full compliance with the law.

Tougher legislation is only one, albeit important, part of the equation. We need to maintain a serious commitment to communication and education if as a society we are serious about promoting a healthier, tobacco free lifestyle.


The facts about tobacco products are stark, when used as recommended by the manufacturers they cause addiction, illness and premature death. We must ensure that our efforts to prevent and control tobacco use are commensurate with the harm it causes.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Commissioner Byrne and his staff for their efforts through the introduction of the ‘Feel Free to Say No’ Campaign which will further advance the protection of consumers from tobacco.