Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

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


6:00 pm

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)

I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the House. Today, three Ministers from the Department of Health came here to debate the Bill and it shows the importance they place on it. They did not send anyone else.

Everyone present agrees we have a duty of care to our citizens and that duty is all the greater to citizens who do not have a voice, our children. Choosing to smoke and destroying one's health is a matter for each individual. There has been enough publicity of the dangers of smoking to deter everybody for life. Unfortunately and unwisely, some choose to ignore the dangers due to addiction, pure foolhardiness or that it is a cool thing to do. Adults choose to smoke for whatever reason and it is their choice, but passive smoking has a profound and serious adverse health effect on the people around them. The majority of children do not choose to be exposed to tobacco smoke. Children's exposure is involuntary and arises from smoking, mainly by adults, in the places where children live, work and play. Given that 1 billion adults smoke worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that around 700 million, or almost half the world's children, breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and it mostly occurs when children inhale smoke in vehicles being driven by their parents or another adult.

As some Senators mentioned their children, I will mention mine. My son was about four years old and he was in his grandad's car. His grandad had an awful habit of smoking in his car and his family was too polite to tell him to stop. However, it was a case of out of the mouth of babes, and my son said to him: "Grandad, please do not smoke in the car anymore." Of course, the rest of my family were shocked and horrified that he dared to say it, but his grandad never smoked in his car again. Today my son is a general practitioner and he has retained his hatred of smoking. Perhaps he was wise beyond his years and knew smoking was bad.

Let us call a spade a spade. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The dangers of being exposed to second-hand smoke are well established. Passive smoking is a real and substantial threat to children's health. Exposure to tobacco smoke causes a wide variety of adverse health effects in children which I will not repeat because people identified them previously and we all know them. Opening a window does not reduce the levels of second-hand smoke in a car to a safe level because the smoke blows back into the vehicle and often lingers for hours. Given that children have higher metabolic and respiratory rates than adults, exposure to second-hand smoke in vehicles is a potentially serious problem. The smoke emitted from the tip of a cigarette has almost double the concentration of nicotine and tar as the smoke inhaled by the smoker.

I welcome the Bill as I am opposed to children being exposed to tobacco smoke. I am and have always been a non-smoker. Several of my friends smoke and none of them ever smokes in their house as they have children. Even my friends who do not have children will go outside for a puff. The best thing that ever happened in the country was the ban on smoking in the workplace because it focused people's minds and made them aware of the dangers of passive smoking. Hence most people go outside to smoke.

I feel very strongly about pregnant women being exposed to second-hand smoke. Most pregnant women will not smoke during pregnancy and they should not be exposed to someone else's smoke. Not only can passive smoking harm the foetus but also it can reduce a woman's chance of getting pregnant in the first place. Passive smoking is also a recognised factor in lowering the birth weight of babies.

I also feel strongly about the environmental damage being caused by smoking in cars where cigarette ash and cigarette butts are flung willy-nilly out of windows without a care being given to where they land or the damage done to the environment. I know, and have spoken to a lady, who, while pushing her baby in a pram, saw a cigarette butt fly out of a car window and land in her pram. Luckily she saw it and took it out of her pram and threw it away. If she had not been vigilant the baby's blanket could have caught fire or, if it had landed on her child's skin, it could have led to a serious burn. If we ban smoking in cars that carry children, the danger posed by the discarding of cigarettes will come to an end.

My colleague, Senator Hayden, has mentioned the danger posed by trying to light a cigarette on the move or by rooting in a bag for one. I agree with her comments and I was going to raise the same issue. The use of hand-held mobile phones has been banned in cars, yet a person can still root in a bag for a cigarette packet, take a cigarette out, find a lighter to light it and still hold it in their hand as they drive.

Tobacco smoke is a serious source of air pollutant, whether indoor or outdoor, contributes to a noxious environment and unpleasant odour, and causes adverse health effects. I support the call for taking strong and immediate action to ensure our children can grow up in an environment where their health is not compromised by being forced to inhale the smoke produced by others. Preventing exposure to tobacco smoke will lead to the improved well-being of children, adolescents and, ultimately, adult health. It will result in reduced mortality and substantial savings in health care and other direct costs.

I add my voice to the congratulations expressed to Senators Crown, Daly and the Acting Chairman on bringing forward the Bill. I know Senator Crown has drawn from his expertise and experience. Anything he suggests is for the well-being of children and deserves our support. I congratulate them all and I am delighted the Ministers have decided to accept the Bill. I know it will benefit the children of this country.


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