Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health

Quarterly Meeting on Health Issues: Discussion

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The behaviour of large tobacco companies in moving into this space is unethical and despicable. They are targeting our children. It is clear what they are doing. Large cigarette companies, which know the war on tobacco is under way and that we are heading towards a tobacco-free Ireland, are mooching into a new area. I was in a petrol station a few nights ago. Some time ago, the Oireachtas decided to bring in plain packaging and block the advertising of cigarettes. However, when I looked behind the counter in the station, I noticed that all of that advertising has been replaced by advertising for e-cigarettes. I am appalled at the number of Oireachtas Members who ask me to meet representatives of vaping companies.

I will never meet them, so Members - I am not referring to anyone in this room - can stop asking me to do so. This is a new arm of the tobacco industry, it is a threat to our children's health, and we need to call it out. What are we going to do about it? We will first ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children, people under the age of 18. We will bring draft legislation to Cabinet this month, I think, to do that. We in the Houses of the Oireachtas have a really good record of taking public health decisions on a cross-party basis, and I look forward to working with the committee in that regard.

Beyond the sale of e-cigarettes to children and the benefits or otherwise of vaping as a cessation tool, it is fair to say the evidence is evolving at a very rapid pace. HIQA did an assessment of this in 2017. I have now asked the Health Research Board, HRB, to look at the potential harmful impacts of e-cigarettes, vaping or whatever one wishes to call it. Its response is due next March. Step one, then, is to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children. Step two is to look at the HRB evidence in March and see what further action we need to take. My instinct, not as a doctor but as someone who talks to doctors, is that there may be - may be - an understandable logic to a person already on tobacco moving to e-cigarettes. However, that is very different from targeting 14, 15 and 16 year old kids with nice, colourful things and children's flavoured e-cigarettes and advertising them to try to get around our rules on plain packaging. We will therefore have to take this very seriously and be very vigilant about it. The first step forward is banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.