Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012: Second Stage


6:00 pm

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall to the House. I wish to focus on some of the comments made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. Young people think they are invincible. Telling them about the ill effects of smoking in the years to come does not cut water when one is 12 years, or even 16 or 17 years. I came across research which showed that more American children under the age of 12 years knew of Joe Camel than knew who was President of the United States. I agree with Senator Cullinane that the price of cigarettes is an important factor. They remain too cheap. When one compares the price of a packet of cigarettes with the price of alcohol, price is still an issue.

Product placement is very important. When one looks at the programmes young people watch, which are an influence, one sees a significant number of young people smoking in them. That needs to be addressed. The Minister made the point that in spite of the smoking ban, young people are continuing to smoke, and I know the Minister of State is concerned that young women smoke because they understand it will help their weight control. I can remember watching Bette Davis and Claude Rains in "An Affair to Remember" sitting on the deck of a liner when he lit his cigarette and romantically passed it to her and they shared it, gazing out over the ocean in a deep and meaningful way. We all realise now that smoking is not good and that second-hand smoke is also at issue.

Parents love their children. Those who smoke love their children, but if one told them to compare the significant damage their habit is doing with depriving a child of food, clothing and education, they would agree they would not do it. We must then ask why smoking in cars when children are present is still an issue.

One of the difficulties I have with the Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, although I am supportive of it, is that it is based on the premise of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act, 2002. A survey of AA members shows that 85% said that smoking should be banned in cars with child passengers. People were not so clear cut when asked if people should smoke in cars when on their own. As a body the AA claims to be neutral and is not concerned because it takes the view that road safety legislation should not be used to enforce a ban on smoking in cars. I find that difficult to comprehend. I gave up smoking 15 years ago. I can remember to this day, groping around in my handbag for a packet of cigarettes or a lighter, not to mention the difficulties of setting my car on fire because my ashtray was overflowing. There is case law in Germany that shows that smoking in cars has been the cause of serious accidents. I admit that I would prefer if the legislation went further and banned smoking in cars altogether. Should we consider the death of child with chronic asthma because of the effects of smoking in cars in the same way as a child dying from any other road safety incident? I find it difficult to understand that under road traffic legislation a person is banned from using a hand-held mobile phone in a car but not from smoking a cigarette. I think the Bill would be far more robust if it was being dealt with under road traffic legislation.

This Bill is grounded on legislation relating to the workplace, as the Minister pointed out, but most of the offenders will be families. An offence under the Bill may be brought or prosecuted by a member of the Garda Síochána. In reality many of the cases will be taken by family members. For the sake of argument, a parent who wishes to complain about another parent or a child whose health has been damaged by smoking in the car can bring a case. While I am in favour of the spirit of the Bill, much remains to be done in amending its provisions on once-off and continuing offences and the imposition of fines.

This is an excellent initiative and I congratulate all the Senators involved in bringing it forward. I do not honestly believe parents wish to harm their children when driving them in their cars. Legislation is the stick, but a robust public information campaign on the dangers of smoking in confined spaces with children is a carrot that merits funding. It could be funded from the excise duties which the State generates from the sale of cigarettes.


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