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:

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to discuss the general scheme of the Bill. The proposals in the general scheme are grounded in our national tobacco control policy, Tobacco Free Ireland, which has two underlying objectives - the denormalisation of smoking and the protection of children. According to our latest survey data, 14% of our adult population smoke daily, 3% smoke occasionally and 5% of school-age children are current smokers. The primary objective of this proposed Bill is to reduce tobacco smoking rates in all the population. The measures are particularly focused on measures to prevent young people from starting to smoke. This is in order to spare them a lifetime of addiction and illness due to a decision made in childhood.

In the long term, smoking causes a range of illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, peripheral arterial disease, diabetes, aneurysms, stroke and 16 types of cancer. These entirely preventible illnesses may not develop for up to 30 years after initiation of smoking. In the shorter term, smoking during childhood and adolescence causes both reduced lung function and impaired lung growth. Smoking during adolescence and young adulthood is also a cause of abdominal aortic atherosclerosis in young adults. There is also evidence that smoking during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment in later life. In addition, adolescent smokers suffer from attention deficits which become worse with years of smoking. According to the evidence, one out of three young people develop a compulsion to smoke after only three or four cigarettes. One out of two develop it after only ten to 19 cigarettes. The measures proposed in this proposed Bill are designed to reduce the likelihood of a young person trying those first few cigarettes and becoming a smoker.

Part 1 of the general scheme contains heads 1 to 7, which are standard and transitional provisions. Part 2 contains heads 8 to 15. It sets out some detail on the proposed licensing system for retailers of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products, including that licences will have to be renewed every year and one licence will be needed for each retail outlet.

Part 3 contains heads 16 to 21. It deals with restrictions on the sale of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products. The proposed measures in this part include: a prohibition on the sale of tobacco products from temporary or moveable premises; with some exceptions, persons under the age of 18 years will no longer be allowed to sell tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products; a prohibition on the sale of nicotine inhaling products to persons under 18 years of age; and a prohibition on the sale of tobacco products at events or locations primarily intended for children.

Part 4 contains heads 22 to 25. This part gives the enforcement body, the environmental health service of the HSE, additional tools to ensure compliance with tobacco control law. These tools include compliance notices and prohibition orders and the power to publish the names of retailers that have been convicted of an offence under tobacco control law.

Part 5 contains heads 26 to 31. It includes the power to issue on-the-spot fines and proposed minimum periods of suspension of a licence for retailers convicted of an offence.

Part 6 contains heads 32 to 39. This part contains amendments to the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002. Head 35(1)(b) repeals section 43(2) of the Act and its effect will be the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products through vending machines.

Part 7 contains heads 40 to 43. It applies the new range of enforcement tools to the 2016 regulations which transposed the tobacco products directive into Irish law. The tobacco products directive is the primary EU law on tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products. These heads are likely to be revised when drafting starts as we have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that it may be better to do these changes through secondary law as the tobacco products directive is currently being reviewed and likely to be revised at EU level.

Part 8 contains head 44. This is a necessary amendment to align the treatment of nicotine inhaling products with tobacco products under criminal justice law.

Part 9 contains heads 45 and 46, which deal with repeals and any consequential amendments.

Again, I thank the committee for giving its time today and we look forward to this opportunity to discuss these proposals.