Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012: Second Stage
John Gilroy (Labour)
I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the introduction of the Bill, which is a meaningful function and demonstrates how the House can work effectively. It also points to the wisdom of our Constitution in allowing an acknowledged expert, like Senator Crown, to have an input in the policy-making and legislative processes of the Oireachtas. While some people would complain about what this House does, this is a day when the Seanad is fulfilling an important role, the role for which it was designed. It is also good we can find cross-party support for the Bill. It shows that well-drafted, well-considered and well-intentioned legislation can find a way through the House, irrespective of which bench it comes from.
The Bill is straightforward and sensible. It raises the question of why it is necessary. It is a poor reflection on society that we find it necessary to make a law to prevent people from smoking in vehicles when there are children in those vehicles. One would imagine common sense and an ordinary sense of responsibility would make it clear to anyone that exposing children to second-hand smoke is unacceptable and that smoking in an enclosed space where children are present, such as a car, is particularly so. However, this is the world we live in and we should waste no time in bringing this legislation through the House.
Senator Crown presented a wide selection of supporting documentation to put his proposal in context. Having read those documents, we must give considerable consideration to the Bill. I am an ex-smoker. Anyone who smokes will be alarmed to hear that there are 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, including 60 known or suspected carcinogens. The effects of inhaling second-hand smoke are well known. Less well known is the fact that inhaling second-hand smoke in enclosed spaces exposes people to a much higher risk. For children to be exposed to second-hand smoke is bad enough, but for them to be exposed to it in the confines of a car is unacceptable. That those exposing children to second-hand smoke are likely to be their parents or guardians is the epitome of irresponsibility. We should not need to make this point, but I suppose we must.
If anyone wants to smoke, it is up to him or herself, so long as the activity does not expose others to second-hand smoke. At one time it was acceptable to smoke in bars and restaurants. I am sure the Minister remembers that 25 years ago it was acceptable to smoke in hospitals. Today, it seems appalling that people tolerate smoke in these situations. When the smoking ban was proposed, every type of argument was put forward as to why it could not and would not work. However, it was introduced, the sky did not fall in and the sun rose on following morning. Very few people would disagree that the implementation of the smoking ban was a good thing. People wondered how the ban would be policed and all sorts of bizarre scenarios were put forward about diverting Garda and HSE resources away from their core duties and towards tracking down establishments where the smoking ban was not being implemented. Proponents of the ban said that would not be necessary, that the ban would be, more or less, self-enforcing and that giving the ban a legislative framework would effect a cultural change where people would take responsibility for their own health. If one lit a cigarette in a bar today, it is unlikely the Garda would be called. Bystanders would make it known, in no uncertain terms, that it was unacceptable.
The Bill is more about education than sanctioning people. That is welcome and practical. It will effect a cultural change. I have one concern. Section 2 defines a child as someone aged 17 and under. Such a person can drive a car but cannot smoke while driving.
The Labour Party supports the Bill.