Thursday, 2 October 2014
Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I note the presence of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly. The purpose of the Bill is to control the design and appearance of tobacco products and packaging, meaning that all forms of branding, trademarks, logos, colours and graphics will be removed from tobacco products and that all tobacco products will be presented in a uniform plain neutral colour, except for the mandatory health warnings and other legal requirements.
Ireland is the first country in the European Union to introduce this type of legislation and only the third country worldwide, following Australia and New Zealand. I commend the Minister for introducing this important legislation. This was also the first country in the European Union to introduce a workplace smoking ban. While there were misgivings initially, there is now broad consensus that the ban has benefited public health care. The majority can see these benefits and support the ban which was introduced by the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, for which I commend him.
The Irish Cancer Society claims smoking prevalence in Ireland dropped from 28.86% in March 2004 to 21.71% in December 2012, a decrease in smoking rates of nearly one quarter during these years. This shows that the advertising campaign has had a positive effect. The Irish Heart Foundation concurs with the Irish Cancer Society's analysis and reports that the smoking ban has contributed to a 10% drop in the number of heart attacks in the past decade. There are many risks associated with smoking and the link between smoking and various diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart problems and respiratory diseases is no longer disputed. Approximately 1,700 people die from lung cancer in Ireland each year and over 90% of lung cancers are caused by smoking. Some 1,500 people die annually from COPD, 90% of whom are smokers or former smokers. One quarter of deaths result from coronary heart disease, while 11 % of all stroke deaths are from smoking. The World Health Organization reported in June this year that there was a link between smoking and dementia. Given that smoking is bad for one's health, it is estimated that we are spending €500 million each year in treating smoking-related diseases, money which would be far better spent elsewhere within the health system.
While significant progress has been made, the battle against smoking wages on. There remains a significant number of people in this country who continue to smoke.
According to a Eurobarometer survey, the smoking rate in Ireland has remained constant at 29%. This rate is the third highest in Europe. What is really worrying is the number of young people who continue to be attracted to smoking. Barnardos claims that children in Ireland start smoking earlier than their counterparts in any other European country, with 78% of smokers taking up the habit before they reach 18 years of age. That figure is extremely high, and when one starts early it is much more difficult to break the habit.
It is clear that increases in the price of cigarettes in recent years and the various warnings regarding the link between smoking and serious health problems have not convinced young people. We must ask, therefore, what it is that motivates young people to smoke. Do they smoke due to peer pressure, because they are of the view that it is cool or that cigarette packaging is attractive, or as a result of the fact that the large illicit trade here allows them to buy cigarettes more cheaply on the streets than in shops? Many previous speakers referred to the availability of illegal cigarettes as a factor. I recently read a KMPG report in which it is stated that 1 billion counterfeit and contraband cigarettes were smoked in Ireland last year. That is a massive number. I am not a smoker but I understand that a packet of cigarettes costs in the region of €9.40 and that counterfeit packs can be purchased for approximately €4.50. I have seen videos of the way in which the latter are sold in public at markets, etc. What happens is that young people are sent to buy these illegal cigarettes for others. Basically, they are being used as pawns. There is a big differential between the cost of a counterfeit packet of cigarettes and that of a normal branded packet that one can buy in the shops. It is estimated that the black market is costing the Exchequer approximately €586 million in lost excise duty each year. Again, this is a significant loss of revenue, and I am of the view that the money involved could be well spent within the health care system.
I have spoken to a number of retailers and shop owners in my constituency in Clare who informed me that around 30% of their turnover relates to the sale of cigarettes. These individuals comply with all the regulations that have been introduced in respect of tobacco sales and, as a result, they cannot compete against those involved in the black market trade. The balance must be tilted away from this trade and back in favour of legitimate retailers. I understand the Revenue Commissioners are of the view that the new packaging rules will make counterfeiting more difficult. I presume this is because they believe there will be a specific stamp on packets. It must be remembered that those involved in the illicit trade are always one step ahead of the law. As is the case with those who counterfeit money, they find other ways to operate and can use developments in information technology to further their aims. That said, however, what is proposed in the Bill represents an important step forward in the context of the sale of cigarettes. I am interested in discovering whether the new packaging will include specific security stamps that will be impossible to replicate or change. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position in this regard when he is replying.
One of the other reasons for the high incidence of smoking among young people is that they are attracted to the packaging. Marketing surveys have proved this to be the case. A survey carried out in the UK in 2011 found that 87% of teenagers and young adults believe plain cigarette packs to be less attractive than branded ones. This is a significant statistic of which we should take note. Research carried out in this country among teens echoes the findings from the UK. When the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation carried out focus group research among 15- to 16-year-old smokers and non-smokers, it emerged that plain packets containing health warnings were less appealing to them than branded packets also containing such warnings.
As already stated, Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging. The most recent figures from that jurisdiction indicate that the introduction of this measure has had a significant impact on the number of people smoking. I return to what I said earlier in respect of the number of people who die from smoking-related diseases. If we can reduce the number of people who smoke, it is obvious that there will be a corresponding reduction in the incidence of cancer, stroke and heart disease associated with smoking. Official data from the Australian Government shows that since the introduction of plain packaging there in 2012, there has been an 11% decrease in the prevalence of smoking. This is fastest decline in smoking rates in Australia over the past 20 years. This is proof that plain packaging makes a difference and it highlights the fact that the legislation before the House is extremely important.
Other countries are set to follow the example of Australia. For example, France is considering introducing certain restrictions. Some 13 million adults in France smoke each day and it is estimated that 73,000 people die there every year as a result of smoking. In recent days I read an article in which the French Health Minister stated that her plans in this area are designed to combat smoking among young people in her country by making packaging less attractive. Ireland is leading the way in Europe and France is following. I am of the view that other countries will also follow our example.
The legislation before the House is both good and important and is designed - in the interests of the people and of society as a whole - to ensure that fewer people smoke. I hope other countries will follow the lead Ireland is giving in respect of this matter.
I was not going to take part in this debate but, having listened to previous contributions, I decided to change my decision in that regard. I am conscious of what was stated in this House and at meetings of the old Eastern Health Board - on which the Minister and I both soldiered - by our colleague, former Deputy Charlie O'Connor, to the effect that our political views and positions are influenced by our life experience. My life experience has been heavily influenced by cigarette smoking. When I was a child, my uncle died - slowly and agonisingly - at 48 from lung cancer he contracted as a result of taking up smoking at the age of 12. When I was a teenager, another of my uncles died at 42 - again, slowly and agonisingly - as a result of the same condition. A third uncle did somewhat better and survived into his 70s. However, he also died as a result of lung cancer he contracted from smoking. My mother died at 72, having been healthy all her life but having also smoked all her life. She died as a result of secondary brain tumours which were caused by tumours on her lungs that were created by cancer. It is ironic that the only one of the five children in my mother's family who did not smoke is now 95 years of age. My aunt has lived to see all her younger siblings die. I assure the Minister that I am no friend of the tobacco industry and I know the havoc its products can wreak.
In paying tribute to the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, in respect of the workplace ban on smoking that he introduced, Members are recognising the benefits that have accrued since its introduction. It took courage on the Deputy's part to sponsor the relevant legislation at the time. I must admit that I was somewhat sceptical about the ban when it was introduced, and one of my concerns related to the fact that I did not want Ireland to become a nanny state. What Deputy Martin sought to do with the ban was to some extent seen in that context initially. I strongly commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, on the legislation he has initiated to deal with smoking in motor vehicles. That legislation must be enacted as soon as possible, particularly as it will deliver real and meaningful health benefits.
Perhaps I am alone but I have some reservations about this. Many Members have alluded to the major problem in this State with counterfeiting and smuggling. I may be more aware of it than others because I live in a county with two long-established street markets where access to cigarettes and counterfeit products at low cost is readily available. Despite the best efforts of An Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise personnel the problem has got worse rather than better. I fear the Minister's well-intended legislation may have the consequence of making the business of smuggling and counterfeiting far easier which, for me, is a particular problem. I imagine when the Minister is summing up he will address the matter, but certainly there is a fear among some people that the intended consequences of the legislation may not be realised and that, in fact, it could be counter-productive, and I am keen to express my concerns and reservations about that.
Deputy Michael Creed talked about the need for the Government to be careful because there could be litigation emanating from the tobacco industry. It is high time that the State considered litigation against the tobacco industry bearing in mind the damage that has been done and that continues to be done by that sector.
I will refer to an allied issue not covered in this legislation but important none the less, especially in the run-up to the budget, that is, the question of excessive alcohol intake, derived in large measure now from the reduced-cost selling that we see predominantly from the multiples throughout the country.
I am a person who likes to go to my local pub for an occasional pint. Like others I go along and have one or two, or I might go a little mad and have three. Anyway, we hear harrowing stories of families who load up their trolleys in supermarkets and bring home innumerable bottles of wine or slabs of beer, all bought at reduced cost. The impact of this excessive intake of alcohol on families is considerable. Recently, I met a youth group in my constituency. One interesting feature about this youth group was that the young people were having to act as carers to the adults. They had to get their mother or father up in the morning and they had to get their brothers or sisters - their siblings - up and out to school, or they had to go and fetch them from some location in town where they had been hanging out while consuming the slabs that had been bought at reduced prices.
I believe our publicans have, for the most part, been altogether responsible in how they have run their establishments. The social aspect of the local pub is a positive aspect of Irish life. It is a feature tourists come here to enjoy and engage in and I believe it is beneficial. However, this uncontrolled drinking, deriving, inevitably, from below-cost selling, needs to be targeted. I know the Minister has a passionate interest in this matter and, therefore, I call on him to raise with the Minister for Finance, as a matter of urgency, the need to do something about it. The licensing fees paid by the multiples and off-licences are a pittance having regard to the amount of alcohol they sell and the devastation that this alcohol can cause. Obviously, they are putting their far more responsible brethren in the bar trade at a major competitive disadvantage.
I wish the Minister well in his battle against the tobacco industry. I make no apology for expressing a reservation about this particular initiative and I call on the Minister to challenge the Minister for Finance to do something about the below-cost selling of alcoholic products.
I welcome this legislation. Any initiative we can bring forward to reduce the use of tobacco and the smoking of cigarettes is to be welcomed; there is no doubt about that. This is a big, powerful and very profitable industry. It is also an industry that has, as some colleagues have already noted, a considerable and growing area of illegality. Counterfeit and contraband cigarettes are being sold. In 2013 a total of 4,453 kg of loose tobacco was confiscated. God knows how much gets through. This raises alarm bells as to the possibility or probability that vast numbers of counterfeit cigarettes are being manufactured here. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which I chair, has had several presentations on this issue.
Often we castigate the retailers, the legal and legitimate business people in shops who comply with the law, gather the revenue, do not advertise the cigarettes and sell them from behind closed doors, as it were. They are competing with the illegal trade in a big way. They tell us that people are openly selling smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes in markets and fairs throughout the country. None of us wants to see cigarettes being sold. If possible I would prefer to ban them completely but we know prohibition does not work. At the same time, we need to do far more to combat the illegal trade in cigarettes. Several suggestions have been brought forward. One is that we increase the penalties for selling and have minimum mandatory fines and penalties for selling illegal and contraband cigarettes. Under the 2009 Act the maximum fine was increased to €126,000. However, the average fine for selling illegal cigarettes in 2011 was only €1,200. In Switzerland barcodes have been embedded on legal cigarette packaging in order that the police - in our case it would be the Garda - can, using a smartphone app, see straight away whether a package is legitimate.
If it does not have a bar code, which can be detected easily, the pack can be confiscated.
There is a concern that the plain packaging might make easier for counterfeiters to copy it because they will have only one version to produce. If that is the case, we must be careful because if we do not clamp down on the illicit trade in a big way, we could end up facilitating more criminality, which is a major issue. Significant criminal gangs that were previously engaged in other activities have moved into this area and there are various estimates as to how much they are earning per annum from this illegal trade, but there is general agreement that it runs into hundreds of millions of euro. The other side of the coin is that people do not know what they are buying. Anything could be found in these cigarettes, and, for example, they might not even have filters. I have read reports of rat poison and other materials being found in illegal cigarettes.
We therefore need to increase awareness and improve education around the dangers of smoking. If one goes by any secondary school in the country, there will be youngsters outside smoking. Tobacco packaging was designed to be attractive to girls, in particular, and to fit into their purses. The packages are colourful and, as the Minister said, resemble perfume boxes. It is appalling that slimline cigarettes were designed for girls and packaged in colourful boxes to fit in their purses in order that they would feel and look cool. That is the mentality behind selling this dangerous product. The legislation may lead to a reduction in the legal sale of cigarettes, but I challenge the Minister to take on the counterfeit trade because that is increasing. Studies have highlighted that the more the price of a packet and excise duty are increased, the more people embrace the illegal trade, which is a problem. It is difficult to measure how much is sold on the black market, but the penalties can be increased.
More X-ray scanners are needed at our ports to capture and track the illegal importation of cigarettes. They are getting in, even though shipments have been confiscated, because it is an extremely lucrative trade. It is estimated that there were 770 million illicit cigarettes in the State in 2011, which is an enormous number. We can read the statistics for the legal trade but we do not know accurately what is happening in the context of the illicit trade in tobacco.
I welcome the smoking ban in public places such as public houses and restaurants, which was a fantastic move. However, a student said to me recently that what is happening now is that people are moving outside to the smoking areas and they have become great social areas to meet and interact. I wonder whether the problem has moved outside from inside. Perhaps we need to examine this again.
Will the Minister comment on the legal action by the World Trade Organization involving Australia, which was the first country to ban non-plain packaging? If Australia loses this legal action, it may have to compensate the manufacturers in countries that have taken the action. Is it the Minister's intention to proceed with the legislation before this legal action is finalised? Would it be better to await the outcome rather than ploughing ahead? Do the implications of this decision need to be considered?
Members have quoted different reports. There is a report in today's edition of The Daily Telegraphwhich states that tobacco sales have increased in Australia despite plain packaging. I do not know whether that is true, but the report was commissioned by the tobacco industry and, therefore, it comes with a major health warning. However, at the same time, we need to consider the report to establish the accurate position. A KPMG study indicated that illicit tobacco sales had increased from 11.8% to 13.3% in Australia up to June 2013. There are issues in this regard about which we must be careful.
Retailers Against Smuggling has proposed that the sale of cigarettes at fairs and markets be banned. Perhaps this should be considered.
The Minister has youth clubs and groups under his remit. As a former teacher I know that when one is the classroom and has a captive audience and one tells teenagers what to do, very often that does not work. Will he consider using youth organisations and youth workers? Youth workers can have engagement and a relationship with young people and teenagers, in particular, which is more powerful and personal in some instances than the interactions they have in schools and classrooms. Because the relationship is informal, laid-back and friendly, health promotion messages, particularly anti-smoking messages, can be delivered in a more powerful way. Hopefully, in the upcoming budget, there will be an increase in funding for the youth sector and youth organisations such as Youth Work Ireland and Foróige, because they could do significant work in combatting tobacco use among young people. Tobacco companies target young people and try to make it look cool for young people to smoke. Will the Minister encourage and support the youth organisations to combat the scourge of tobacco smoking? They are in a powerful position to do that.
I recently met a retailer whose understanding of what was coming down the tracks was that all cigarette packs would look the same except for a small logo that would signify the brand. He said it would be difficult to pick out a particular brand when a customer came into the shop and this would cause many problems for his staff. It is minor issue but he was serious about it. I said I would raise it in the House, for what it was worth, because he is a legal retailer who obeys the law. This is an important issue for him because he says it will increase his staff costs and it will take up more time. It is a practical issue for someone on the ground and we should listen to what he has to say because he is obeying the law. We should clamp down more on illegal traders and support those who are trading legally and who collect revenue for the State. When he raised it with me I wondered whether he was having me on, but it is a serious issue for him and we must take everything into account.
It will be interesting to see how the legislation progresses and the impact it has. We need to monitor it as much as possible, but I wish the legislation well.
Sinn Féin supports this Bill as one more important step towards combatting the harmful and devastating effects of tobacco smoking. It brings into focus once again the damage tobacco smoking does to public health and allows us to highlight the physical and emotional pain caused by the tobacco industry.
The ongoing campaign to eradicate tobacco smoking in this State is to be highly commended. The work done by successive Governments in tackling the issue has been world-leading and innovative. The smoking ban introduced in 2004 was the first of its kind in the world. It is great that the State has played such a pivotal role in the battle against the corporate giants of tobacco. The fight for a tobacco-free society, not only by Governments but also by organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, ASH Ireland and many others, is an uphill one. With the right legislative changes, societal education and combined strategies, this objective is, however, achievable, and we must work together every step of the way to ensure it is realised.
While much work has already been done to reduce the number of people who smoke, it is worth noting that slightly less than 25% of the population uses tobacco. Every year, more than 7,000 deaths across the island are related to tobacco smoking, whether they are as a result of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke or emphysema. This is a shocking statistic. The introduction of standardised packaging is important. By eliminating the ability of tobacco companies to market their dangerous product in any capacity and placing an emphasis on health warnings and imagery, we will, I hope, see a reduction in the figures I have cited.
While the impact of these measures may not be ground-breaking, every single person who quits or chooses not to smoke as a result of these and other measures is a success story. The tobacco industry is of no benefit to society and costs the health service €1 billion per annum, families their loved ones and children their parents. It also has a profoundly higher cost in disadvantaged communities than in communities with a higher socioeconomic status. Put simply, it costs too much for too many people. The tobacco industry profits from death, illness and addiction and we owe it nothing. It is estimated that if smoking continues to expand globally at its current rate, it will be the single largest cause of death worldwide before the middle of this century. This is because the tobacco industry's biggest area of expansion is in developing countries, which do not yet have measures in place to prevent the spread of tobacco smoking. The industry is engaged in pure, unadulterated exploitation of those who are most in need.
In Ireland, children start smoking at a younger age - 16.4 years - than in any other European country. Some 78% of smokers started to smoke before the age of 18 years. The Health Behaviour in School Children, HBSC, survey for 2010 showed that 27% of children reported ever having smoked tobacco. This figure constituted a 9% decrease compared to the figure for 2006. While we are moving in the right direction, it is worrying that 12% of children reported being current smokers.
The HBSC study also found that children from higher social class groups are less likely to smoke. Once again, disadvantaged children are affected more severely than their better-off counterparts. As legislators, we have a responsibility to curb this disproportionate impact and do everything within our power to prevent it.
Figures provided to the Irish Cancer Society regarding Australia's plain packaging initiative introduced in December 2012 show a decline in the number of tobacco smokers. The national drug household survey in Australia showed that daily smoking rates fell from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013. While I acknowledge that the precise reasons for this decline remain unclear, and it is not certain that it correlates directly with the recent change in packaging law, it is none the less positive and timely, and we can hope for similar results here.
My party colleague and Member of the European Parliament for the Six Counties, Martina Anderson, has done stellar work as shadow rapporteur in putting the tobacco products directive through the legislative process in Europe. Sinn Féin, as an all-island party, would like to see an all-Ireland approach to tackling the tobacco industry and the effects of tobacco on society. I hope this legislation will contribute greatly to eradicating the temptation for young people to take up this deadly habit.
The removal of branding and its substitution with images showing the health implications of smoking is a welcome move. The cigarette packet is the last marketing tool available to tobacco companies in this State. We must not succumb to pressure from tobacco lobbyists. Tobacco is the only product which, if used as advertised, will kill 50% of users. Any other product that resulted in such a death rate would be banned without hesitation. In this case, however, a prohibitionist approach would not work, whereas a continued combined cross-party and all-Ireland approach will work. Sinn Féin will support the Bill's passage through the House.
I thank all Deputies who contributed to the Second Stage debate on the Bill. I am reminded that on issues such as this, on which one has said many things many times, one believes everyone has heard them. However, one cannot make one's point often enough. I am delighted, therefore, that all the Deputies who spoke reiterated the shocking and terrible statistics associated with the use of tobacco. Every year, 5,000 people in this country die as a direct result of using tobacco. As Deputy McLellan noted, it is astonishing that tobacco is the only legal product which, when used as advised by the manufacturer, will kill every second user.
While Deputies have raised issues with regard to the Bill, I am pleased that the overwhelming majority of them support this initiative. The objective of this measure and many other tobacco control measures is to dissuade people from starting to smoke, primarily children. As speaker after speaker pointed out, 78%, or almost four in five smokers start smoking when they are children. Our objective is also to encourage current smokers to quit smoking and, ultimately, to save lives.
During the debate, speakers referred to the issue of the notification of this Bill to the European Union. I wish to clear up any misunderstanding regarding this matter. Directive 98/34/EC, commonly known as the technical standards directive, imposes an obligation to inform the Commission and other member states of technical regulations in draft format. This Bill falls into the categories for notification set out in that directive, as did the recent legislation on sunbeds. Ireland notified the Bill to the EU on 17 June, thereby fulfilling our obligations under European law. The Commission and member states had until 18 September to comment or provide detailed opinions on the proposed measures. As detailed opinions have been received, the standstill period has increased by a further three months - that is, until 18 December 2014. For this reason, the legislative process cannot continue past Second Stage until after this standstill period has elapsed. We welcome the recent decision of the French Government to introduce standardised packaging.
I propose to refer to the inclusion of cigars and pipe tobacco in the Bill. As Deputy Ó Caoláin stated in July, the United Kingdom, in its draft standardised packaging regulations, did not include cigars and pipe tobacco. If the UK decides to proceed with its initiative, the resulting regulations will be made under its Children and Families Act 2014. The consultation document released by the UK refers to the low prevalence rate among young people of smoking cigars and pipe tobacco. The provisions of the Bill before us are not confined to any specific age group. While the core aim is to prevent young people from starting to smoke, we also want to assist current smokers to stop smoking. All tobacco products have been shown to negatively affect health. As such, all tobacco products should be treated equally under the Bill.
Evidence shows that standardised packaging encourages existing smokers to quit and those who have given up to remain as non-smokers. With this in mind, the Bill covers all tobacco products, as does the Australian legislation.
I would like to respond to those Deputies who stated they remain unconvinced this measure alone would stop people smoking. Standardised packaging is but the latest strand to a comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation already in place in Ireland, which aims to denormalise the practice of smoking.
It is the combination of past, present and future tobacco control measures that will reduce tobacco consumption in Ireland, and not one measure in isolation. All the measures outlined in our tobacco policy, entitled "Tobacco Free Ireland", will have a role in reducing the prevalence of smoking in Ireland. However, standardised packaging is important as it is the next step in tackling tobacco advertising and promotion specifically.
Ireland is adopting an approach recommended by the World Health Organisation. Guidelines devised under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ask countries to consider introducing standardised packaging for tobacco. Standardised packaging is not, therefore, a new concept. As we know, Australia has already acted upon this WHO recommendation. Some 22 months on from the introduction of standardised packaging in Australia, the latest figures show that the total consumption of tobacco products there was the lowest ever recorded. That is why the tobacco industry is so exercised about this initiative.
As regards the illicit trade of tobacco, the tobacco industry's estimates of the size of that market are not considered to be accurate. Recent industry reports identify an Australian illicit trade market of 13.3%, whereas government data indicates that 1.5% of smokers use illicit trade tobacco. Who do we trust more? Who has the wellbeing of its citizens at heart? The tobacco industry or the Australian Government? I congratulate the Australian Government for making this brave move and taking on the industry through the courts in that jurisdiction. In addition, it has continued to fight at the World Trade Organisation where the jury is still out and there has been no final ruling.
There is a wealth of evidence indicating that standardised packaging will have a positive impact. No matter what evidence we produce, however, the tobacco industry will produce evidence to contradict it. This is a well-known and well-documented tactic of the tobacco industry.
The Irish Cancer Society undertook a trial involving younger children who thought the current cigarette packets were "nice", "lovely" and "made you want to hold them". When the same children were presented with plain packets from Australia, including graphic pictures of the damage smoking does, they said: "Ugh. Who'd ever want to smoke?" Children are not stupid and if facts are presented to them they know how to react. I am confident too that the Irish public, including our TDs and Senators, will act in the public good.
Arguments put out by the tobacco industry regarding increased illicit trade and supposed job losses from the retail sector should not deflect us from doing what is right. I said this on the floor of the European Parliament when the EU directive was being put through under our EU Presidency. It should never be a case of choosing between jobs and lives, and we are talking about lives. Some 700,000 Europeans die every single year from tobacco use. It is an astonishing figure.
Another well-known tactic of the tobacco industry is the threat of legal challenges. While a legal challenge by the industry cannot be ruled out, I am confident that the research available to us demonstrates that standardised packaging will have a positive impact on health and is a proportionate and justified measure. The threat of legal challenges should not be an obstacle to progressing public health policies. We must press on with our mission to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025. Let us be clear what we mean by "tobacco free". We mean a smoking prevalence less than 5%.
We should be heartened, encouraged and proud of the support expressed by Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, on her visit to Dublin in June. She made it clear that while Ireland may face the wrath of the tobacco industry, the WHO wholeheartedly supports Ireland in our endeavours concerning standardised packaging.
I now wish to cover one or two issues in some more detail. The extent of the illicit cigarette market in Ireland is estimated through annual surveys of smokers. These surveys are undertaken for Revenue and the national tobacco control office of the HSE by IPSOS MRBI. The survey for 2012 found that 13% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland are illicit. Of the 13% classified as illegal packs, 11% were classified as contraband, almost 2% as "illicit whites", and less than 1% were counterfeit. What does this mean and what are the implications? The counterfeit trade in this country is tiny at less than 1%. The rest of it is illegal contraband which is produced by the tobacco industry. Is the industry bothered that the tobacco products are sold this way or that when they are producing them? I am sure that Deputies will be able to come to a conclusion themselves on that question.
The comparable figure for 2011 was 14%. This would suggest that the extent of the problem is being contained as a result of the extensive action being taken against the smuggling and the sale of illicit products.
I commend Deputy Micheál Martin, the current leader of the Opposition, for bringing in the smoking ban when he was Minister for Health. The ban was introduced in the workplace not in the pub, as Deputy Ó Fearghaíl alluded to. The logic behind it was to protect workers from environmental tobacco smoke.
Estimating the scale of any illegal activity and the resultant tax loss is difficult. The IPSOS MRBI survey is the best indicator of the extent of the market in illicit cigarettes. It was not about telling people they could not smoke - it was protecting the workers who had to work in such confined spaces. As a result, if people wanted to smoke they had to do so outside. As a consequence, many people have stopped smoking while others smoke a lot less.
The KPMG report, which was commissioned by the tobacco industry, is not validated. As I have said, it is contradicted very much by Government data.
Deputy Stanton mentioned the issue of talking to young people and I agree with him 100%. In the past, the Department ran an advertisement on mental health that everybody agreed was good at highlighting the issue for younger people. The Department took the precaution of talking to youth groups, however, and they came up with a very different advert that proved to be much more effective. Nobody understands younger people better than themselves and those who work most closely with them.
I would like to say that I am way ahead of Deputy Stanton. Last week I was in the west and visited Ballinasloe and Loughrea where I met a group of young people working in a youth club there. They are very involved in their community. On the wall they proudly displayed a poster advising young people not to smoke cigarettes. They won a prize for that poster and certainly hit the mark with it. They told me they had a very confined space and needed new premises, so we will do everything we can to help them in that regard. One of the young ladies said: "It's a bit squishy in here". I told her that word could yet enter the lexicon of Dáil Éireann and I am now delivering on my promise.
The work done by volunteers in the youth sector is astonishing. Some 40,000 people are involved and that is not counting all the sporting organisations. Without them we could not deliver for our children in the way we do. We must do more to support them, however, and we are certainly trying to do so. I wish to thank those volunteers for their work, as well as the young people themselves for the energy and vibrancy they bring to the sector. It makes being Minister for Children and Youth Affairs a pleasant experience.
Deputy Michael Creed and others spoke about alcohol in the context of public health measures, although it is not the subject of this Bill.
It is the remit of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, but obviously I am also very concerned about it as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Underage drinking and below-cost selling must be addressed. The Government has a good alcohol policy in this regard, on which it is making progress.
Deputy Pat Breen stated that approximately 30% of the turnover of small retailers was derived from cigarettes. He stated that the new packets would make counterfeiting more difficult, not less difficult, because they will have a security mark that is very difficult to emulate.
Let me respond to Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl on his personal experience of tobacco. There is no doubt that the product wreaks terrible havoc and visits horror and hardship on families and individuals. I noted the Deputy's concern about markets. That is a matter for enforcement. There is good enforcement, but we must be ever-vigilant.
I thank all Members for their support. We need not believe that this legislation, which I clearly believe will be passed in this Chamber based on what Members have said, is the end of the matter. There is an ongoing battle to be fought to ensure the well-being and safety of our children and give them the quality of life and health to which they are entitled. Far from being a nanny state policy, this legislation is about protecting vulnerable children who are influenced by the last billboard that the industry has, the package. In this regard, Deputy Stanton alluded to the very deliberate targeting of young girls with small packets that look like perfume boxes. We will not be banning slim cigarettes, but we will be banning the slim boxes.
In 1998, 33% of Irish people smoked. Today, that figure is 21.5%. I thank all who have been involved in the fight to safeguard the health of our people and to help us protect future generations from smoking. We know this measure will help to protect our children and prevent them from ever starting to smoke. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I must put their needs and health ahead of any industry considerations. We know the measure will enhance their lives and add many years of life to their bright and better futures. I commend the Bill to the House.