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

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am a former smoker who smoked for 20 years or so, and I have not done so in ten. There is a new challenge coming now in the form of the alternatives to smoking. As was noted, they might be a benefit to those who have smoked and want to stop, but they could also be a gateway drug for those who have not started to smoke but might fancy it. I was once told that when someone becomes addicted, he or she will need to undergo a long programme to quit. That is not true at all. It is possible to stop instantly and walk away from it, although there is no doubt it has weight implications. We need to counter the argument the Chairman made correctly. Some women believe smoking is an alternative way of controlling weight, and while it does have an effect on weight, it is also bad. We need to bring those two arguments together in a way that is receptive to people who are looking at it from that point of view.

Small children, the 10-year-olds to 12-year-olds, who start smoking are influenced by the cinema and television. The hero who smokes casually is part and parcel of that. I refer to Clint Eastwood with the chewed-off cigar at one side of his mouth and so on. That was a big influence in years gone by, before the witnesses were born. The damage to health must also be emphasised much more in order to have a positive impact on that particular generation. We need to be very clear in our minds about that.

The next thing to consider is the alternatives. We discussed e-cigarettes and what goes with them. I cannot understand how products with tobacco content can represent an improvement because they continue the use of tobacco. The argument can be made that such products involve a reduction in the amount of tobacco and nicotine heated or taken in, whatever way one wishes to describe it, but it still continues the hazardous habit of smoking, albeit by an alternative means. I know the science is still out on this. There is an argument taking place at present. That argument needs to come to fruition and reach a conclusion at the earliest possible date. The advice should err on the side of safety because, if it comes to pass that the alternatives lead back to smoking again, there is no advantage for anybody, including the scientists.

I will raise an issue that came up during the Covid pandemic. It appears that there was increased consumption of tobacco by way of home-rolled cigarettes. Two issues arise from that. I refer to the size of the pack in which loose tobacco is sold and made available in sales outlets and to the illegal importation of tobacco, which is a different matter but which also needs to be controlled. Is the Department satisfied that the legislation as proposed will deal adequately with the reintroduction to nicotine, tobacco and smoking by that route, the home-rolled method? From indications we are seeing, it also appears that the increase among the younger age cohort has been fairly substantial. I regard that as worrying. I have put questions down on this already. Does the Bill contain sufficient obstructions and restrictions to discourage the return to smoking in that way? That is my first question.


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