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 great that the Deputy made the point that it is very hard to quit. The global percentage of smokers who successfully quit is less than 10%. Our year-on-year data collected for Healthy Ireland tells the same story. Some 60% to 70% of smokers want to quit. Approximately half, or 50%, give it a go and approximately 10% succeed. I understand that there is a view that people need to just put in more effort. That is not the case. The younger people start smoking, the more addicted they will be. The brain chemistry changes. Their brain actually changes when they get a hit from a cigarette, which begins that gnawing addiction. Addiction is interesting. A person can, for example, smoke one cigarette every month or two months. People think that such people can take it or leave it but that is considered addiction. A person does not to smoke 80 a day to be addicted. There is a change in the brain chemistry. A person who has been a smoker for a few years may begin to try to fight it but I have seen the intensity compared to heroin addiction with regard to how difficult it is to quit. Different people have different brain chemistry. It works in different ways. However, one of the ways it can be made more difficult to quit, by which I mean extremely psychologically and biologically stressful, is to start young. The younger people are when they start, the more likely it is that their brain will take that twist, leaving them stuck with a nicotine addiction.

The Deputy discussed e-cigarette flavours. As I said earlier, we have to think about two cohorts. One is, of course, the younger people. There is no benefit for them in e-cigarettes, which is why we are banning them for those under 18. However, we also have to think about smokers who have tried patches, gum and, perhaps, medication from their GP and who are now trying e-cigarettes. In striking that balance, some of those flavours may be useful. I am not saying that all flavours are necessary. We certainly have not come to any conclusion on the flavours. We will probably be led by the EU on this issue because the governing law on e-cigarettes in Ireland at the moment is EU law.

We have to tread carefully because, while we absolutely do not want young people vaping, we do not want to take away flavours if flavours are one of the reasons a person would choose e-cigarettes over tobacco cigarettes. One has to look at the product from the point of view of younger people, and banning it for them is clearly correct, but we cannot forget about smokers. There has been a great deal of attention on younger people and how much they vape but people are forgetting about heavy smokers and people who have been smokers for 30 years, for whom the patches and the gum do not work and who are not going to their GP. They have voted with their feet to a certain extent because they are using e-cigarettes instead of tobacco cigarettes. Some 42% of smokers in Ireland in 2019 used e-cigarettes to try to quit. We have to strike that balance. I am not coming to any conclusion on the flavours.


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