Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health

General Scheme of the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill 2019: Department of Health

Ms Claire Gordon:

It is a tricky one because one of the difficulties with regulation of tobacco is that many people think the problem has been solved. To be fair, there has been a pandemic and it is reasonable to have focused on that, but it is one of those areas where other public health problems have come to the fore such as obesity and so on. Another element with smoking is that it occurs more in disadvantaged areas than in more prosperous areas. There is, for example, a nearly 10% difference between smoking rates in a disadvantaged area and a more affluent area. There is an element, clearly not within the Department of Health, but outside, that believes the problem is solved and that "we have done that plain packaging, we have put them behind the counters, so what more can we do?" After that, when one starts doing other things such the Deputy talks about, it becomes exactly like my reaction when I initially came into the Department: "Sure that is ridiculous; people have a right to do what they want; can they not make their own decisions?; why do we need to keep censoring things?; and are people not adults?" These arguments come up. In the context of drama, we certainly get the argument that smoking is necessary for the story or it is necessary for the character. Strangely enough, people find it hard to believe that things like a drama will cause people to go and try smoking. With children especially, the number one thing with smoking is that it is an adult activity. Therefore, I am making myself an adult if I have a smoke. What smoking looks like is the attraction, the actual experience of smoking is fairly rotten. It is about how it looks. Essentially it looks cool and the programme- and film- makers use it in dramas to make characters look cool. I am not aware of any concerted action at EU level to look at those dramas. Potentially there would be issues of artistic freedom. We could be pushed back on the old issue, which is that people have been told it is a risk. The warnings and the plain packaging in Ireland especially are very good. Looking at a box of cigarettes as they are sold in Ireland now it would be difficult to be attracted by it. We could certainly come up against the argument that we are going a bit too far and that people should be left to themselves.


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