Wednesday, 7 May 2003
Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann, noting that the use of tobacco and the abuse of alcohol represent the two biggest threats to public health in this country; recognising the right of people to work and socialise in a healthy smoke free atmosphere; demands that the Minister for Health and Children implement an immediate ban on smoking in licensed premises; condemns the efforts of lobbyists and some politicians to prevent the introduction of such a ban; calls for the immediate introduction of a ban on direct or indirect alcohol advertising in any communication medium which has a significant audience of people under 18 years of age and calls for appropriate changes in the law to ensure that the Garda have all the powers they need to detect the sale of alcohol to minors, to prosecute persons who are responsible for such sales and to seek the immediate and, where appropriate, permanent closure of premises where such sales take place.
I am an instinctive libertarian, even though libertarianism is associated more with the extreme right than with the position on the left that I may claim to occupy. I know many Members on the other side of the House enjoy suggesting that I have no real entitlement to claim to be of the left since I do not have holes in the soles of my shoes or some such nonsense. Nevertheless I am of the left and am an instinctive libertarian and very reluctant to restrict people's freedoms to do much as they wish. Indeed, without betraying any secrets, at our parliamentary party meeting today we had a letter from Barnardos about taking a pledge not be seen having an alcoholic drink on our hands in public. I took great exception to this. It was an extraordinary demand to make.
There are two things involved in our motion. I actually assumed that the motion would be agreed by the Government and I am astonished that an amendment arrived as late as about one o'clock today. Given that we mere members of the Opposition come under considerable pressure if we cannot produce a motion by Thursday evening, one would expect greater speed of response from the Government.
Nothing will fill a parish hall or school hall quicker than a talk about drugs. Tell parents at a school that there is to be a talk about drugs and they will be hanging out of the rafters. Tell them there is to be a talk about tobacco and they will not turn up. Tell them there is a talk about alcohol and they will probably turn up in reasonable numbers. Drugs can produce a response like no other issue. I want to talk about the drugs of choice of the people of Ireland and the ones that are killing significant numbers of people, the first because of its inherently insidious nature and the second because of the extent to which we have become a society of abusers.
It is actually difficult for a member of the Roman Catholic Church to say this but tobacco is inherently harmful. It may serve a purpose in nature but it is, of its nature, inherently harmful. I do not know any smokers who really believe that smoking does them any good. Many of them would maintain that continuing to smoke is the lesser of two evils, but that is not the same as doing them any good. This is a fundamental difference between tobacco and alcohol which I will come back to.
It is hardly worth taking up the time of the House with the statistics but the most horrendous statistic I came across in preparing for this debate is from a European study available on the Internet which provides a country profiles database for Ireland. It suggests that the total number of deaths which could be attributed to smoking in this country between 1950 and 2000 was about 250,000. That is the sort of figure that should make anybody think carefully. It is probably a conservative figure because nowadays we quote a figure of around 6,000 deaths per year.
If all smokers retreated into a little room on their own and smoked themselves and other smokers to death I might very much regret that fact and might want to do as much as possible to prevent it, but it would not be an intrusion upon the health of the rest of us. The truth is that the exposure on a regular basis to other people's smoke can increase the risk of a variety of tobacco-related ailments by a factor of between 30% and 40%. Research is probably beginning to show that the figure is higher than that. It is hard to believe now that in theatres 30 or 40 years ago the entire audience would feel perfectly free to blow smoke in the direction of the unfortunate actors. It is so unthinkable nowadays. Having to breathe in smoke in cinemas was a regular feature until perhaps ten years ago. I used to have to inhale smoke in a restaurant until quite recently. When I still have to breathe in smoke in a pub it puts me at risk, first of all.
The same logic that prohibited smoking in theatres, cinemas, a good part of restaurants, the place where I work and many other areas of activity demands that people who insist on smoking cannot be allowed to do so anywhere that people want to socialise or, in particular, any place where others have to work. The first part of our motion, which is about tobacco and the extraordinary damage it does to public health, recognises no more than what the Government amendment does, that people have a right to work and socialise in a clean, healthy, smoke-free atmosphere. We wanted to encourage the Government because rumours and newspapers stories have it that there is an increasing lobby both from the vintners and within one of the Government parties that seeks to dilute the Minister for Health and Children's commitment to ban smoking in licensed premises. All the organisations concerned about tobacco-related public health, whether the groups concerned about cancer or heart disease, have been in touch with all Members of the Oireachtas demanding that we ensure this ban is carried through in full and on time.
It is an outrage to pretend that it is somehow an imposition. The argument I have heard is that it is unenforceable in licensed premises. I was in New York comparatively recently and ended up in a bar which was probably more of a student bar than somebody of my age should have been in – it was an accident. It was a noisy, crowded, young persons' bar. One after another, people got up from their places, went outside the door, smoked a cigarette and came back in. It was an extraordinary experience to end up in a pub in which there was no smoke and suddenly to discover that it is the smell, the taste and the feel of smoke which affronts, not confronts, one the minute one walks inside the door of a pub. In that most libertarian of societies, they have succeeded in banning smoking in public houses, licensed premises and in bars. There is no reason we should not do so here. I, and my party, fully support the Minister for Health and Children in his determination to do so. I cannot understand why parties which support the Minister find it impossible to carry through the logic and to identify the wrongdoing of lobbyists and some politicians who would attempt to prevent the introduction of such a ban. That is inherently wrong.
In regard to enforcement, if publicans say they could not enforce a ban on smoking in their premises – such an obvious and visible thing – how in God's name can I believe that they can enforce rules about under age drinking, which are far more difficult to enforce given the difficulty establishing and proving people's age? If they do not have the will, the organisation or the ability to enforce a ban on smoking, then, manifestly, they will not have the will, the organisation or the ability to enforce a ban on under age drinking.
That leads me to the second of our drugs of choice – alcohol. The tragedy of tobacco, and particularly alcohol, is that while it took us perhaps 50 years to recognise what is now so obviously true, that is, that tobacco smoke is inherently unhealthy, we have known for many a long year that the abuse of alcohol is a social harm. Let us remember that alcohol is a good thing which makes people convivial, sociable and agreeable but 25% of all admissions to accident and emergency departments are alcohol related. Some 13% of people who attend accident and emergency departments are clinically intoxicated.
There is manifest evidence that this country has a huge problem of under age drinking, yet the section of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 which required that suppliers of alcohol for consumption off the premises had to be identified on the container has not been implemented three years later. Gardaí cannot sit in a pub unidentified and sort out whether under age people are being served. Every parent in every town and city knows where their under age children can be served. I say this with respect to the Garda Síochána but the only people in towns and cities who do not know the names of the pubs where people under age can get served seem to be the Garda Síochána – everybody else knows. I know the names of such pubs in Cork. The last time I said this I got a phone call from a senior official of the Garda Síochána who said he did not know. When I told him they were all raided on Saturday night, he did not need me to tell him that.
I second the motion. I note with interest the Government amendment to our motion because it appears there is little difference between them. I hope that before the end of the two hour debate, we may be able to come to some agreement. I am glad to note that we are, in effect, singing from the same hymn sheet. That is important because, as legislators, we have a major role to play not only in terms of statutory controls in relation to alcohol and tobacco but also in regard to the lead we give. Connected to that, it is important that there is consensus and unanimity among all Members of this and the Lower House in relation to the core issue of cigarettes and the need to protect and, in particular, improve public health when it comes to tobacco smoke.
I am indebted to the report produced in December 2002 by the Health and Safety Authority and the Office of Tobacco Control on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke, ETS, in the workplace. If anybody is in any doubt about the effect of environmental tobacco smoke, I suggest they read this report because it sets out clearly the hazards generated by the inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke – in other words, somebody else's smoke. ETS is carcinogenic. Only last year, the World Health Organisation's international agency for research on cancer said that exposure to ETS is carcinogenic to humans. That is the position of the scientific community and it is a fact of which we must take cognisance and on which we must act. The questions are how and when we act.
We are looking for a commitment by the Government to act as soon as possible on this issue. This motion is designed to help the Government, and the Minister for Health and Children in particular. We have major differences with the Minister on other health matters but this is one area in which we should not have a difference. This motion is designed to provide as much support as possible to the Minister's proposed legislation in regard to banning smoking in the workplace and in public houses.
As a Member of the previous Seanad, I was a member of the sub-committee on smoking of the Joint Oireachtas Committee Health and Children. In one of the public submissions made to the sub-committee when it was drawing up a report on this matter, Professor Luke Clancy said that 50% of the admissions to St. James's Hospital in Dublin were tobacco related. Other hospitals obviously have in their beds – which are becoming scarce – a considerable number of patients who are there because of smoking related illnesses. The cost of smoking to the public purse is enormous and, if only on that basis, we need to tackle it. Happily, we are becoming increasingly intolerant of smoking in the workplace and in public places.
Thank you. I know that the Minister and the Leader of the House are trying to resolve the issues regarding this motion.
Wards containing new-born infants could often be filled with cigarette smoke – obviously ETS – following public visiting hours. I should have declared earlier that I am a former smoker, and one of the presents I received as a newly delivered mother was 200 cigarettes. Although they are very useful for getting through the night, I have happily given up the habit since.
People who have not smoked perhaps do not appreciate that when one is a smoker one regards cigarettes as one's best friends. They are a great crutch. Obviously they are a drug, and they are difficult to give up. The vast majority of people want to give up smoking. In that regard, the legislation we have put in place so far, as well as that which we want to put in place, is very important in encouraging and supporting people who wish to give up. That important point must also be borne in mind.
I have one more point before I turn to the issue of alcohol. When smoking was banned in bingo halls, we were told that it would be the end of public bingo sessions, but it was not. Banning smoking has not ruined cinemas or theatres. All it has done is improve the quality of life for those who attend those public places. It has provided a major encouragement for people who want to give up.
My message to the Minister is that he should keep going and not allow himself to be distracted from his objective. A ban will not adversely affect business in pubs either. I rarely go into pubs because of the cigarette smoke, for as a non-smoker I find the atmosphere intolerable, and that does not encourage me. It is also notable that in this country the incidence of smoking is higher among lower-income groups, and how we tackle smoking as a public health issue must be examined in public education programmes. Smoking is undoubtedly linked to poverty.
That I have only one minute left leaves me very little time to say what I wanted about alcohol. I will make two brief points, the first being that, although I hope it is changing now, we in this country have an extraordinarily high level, not only of alcohol consumption, but of alcoholism. It is time that we confronted the fact that we are bordering on being an alcoholic nation. I recently had a 24-year-old in my office in Nenagh who, following two stints in Aiséirí, is now, happily, a recovering alcoholic. He is trying to ensure there is somewhere to go for young emerging alcoholics. He would say that he was an alcoholic by 15, and he is not alone. Anyone will tell you that, in leaving certificate classes and younger age groups, there are emerging alcoholics, and we simply do not do enough about it. From a public health perspective, we must face up to our community responsibilities to intervene at a much younger stage and confront people individually about drink.
Interestingly, many people now talk about the amount that young women drink, something that confronts our sense of their role and status in the community. It is notable that a survey carried out by the Rape Crisis Centre among clinic attendees seeking the morning-after pill showed that, while the incidence of rohypnol was extremely low, there was a high incidence of binge drinking, the rate of which has become extremely high. We must confront that, not only among young women, but also among young men.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
"notes that the consumption of tobacco products and the abuse of alcohol pose a huge burden on the public health of this country, recognises the right of people to work and socialise in a clean, healthy, smoke-free atmosphere, supports the ban on smoking in places of work announced by the Minister for Health and Children on 30 January 2003, which will come into operation from 1 January 2004, notes the intention of the Minister for Health and Children to bring forward legislation to reduce the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising, and recognises the Government's commitment to implementing the recommendations contained in the interim report of the strategic task-force on alcohol."
Tobacco and alcohol are two socially acceptable drugs. It is for that reason that they are so dangerous. To a large extent, they lull us into a false sense of security. I thank the Labour Party for bringing the motion before the House and giving me the opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his outstanding commitment to date regarding tobacco and alcohol addiction. This and the previous Fianna Fáil Government have done more than any others to highlight the use of tobacco and alcohol as serious threats to public health. I would like—
It would be easy to tell the Senator what his party had done in Government. We will not embarrass him just yet, but we will get to it.
Regarding tobacco, I commend the activities of organisations such as Action on Smoking and Health and the Office of Tobacco Control. As a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I was very surprised – but on reflection, not so much – to hear from an expert that tobacco is more addictive than heroin. The statistic was damning by any standards.
Alcohol is a drug that we all consume from time to time. The issue is not so much use as abuse. Very often the Vintners' Federation of Ireland is demonised. We are not saying that its members are all great, but they are all bad either. They are not a baby-sitting service, in which role some members of society would cast them. When some Johnny or Mary comes home locked to the gills with alcohol at the age of 15 or 16, the first question asked is what pub gave him or her the alcohol. That is very pertinent, but the question of where the mammy and the daddy were is never asked.
It is only fitting and correct that I list what this Government and its predecessor have done. The Fianna Fáil-led Government raised the age limit for buying tobacco from 16 to 18, stopped advertising in newspapers and magazines and ended sponsorship by the tobacco industry. It took positive action by providing for the free availability of a full range of nicotine replacement therapy products to people who cannot afford them, namely, those with medical cards. It initiated sustained media advertising campaigns directed at preventing young people from taking up smoking. It allocated several million euro extra to the health boards to help them improve compliance with the tobacco laws.
The Minister for Health and Children established that very important organ, the Office of Tobacco Control. That office, with the Health and Safety Authority, commissioned the report on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace. In fairness to Senator Ryan, Senator O'Meara and other Members, they have quite rightly mentioned working in a safe atmosphere. If ever there was a reason for the creation of the Health and Safety Authority, it was the problem of environmental tobacco smoke and its ill-effects, not only on the people who generate it but also on those who are obliged to inhale it, even though they were not responsible for the origination of that particular atmospheric pollutant.
—to protect the public from this killer drug. Truth can be shamed but it can never be blamed.
It was the current Administration that, for the first time in the history of the State, seriously highlighted the right of people to work and socialise in a healthy, smoke-free atmosphere. It is good of the Labour Party to also recognise this right. I thank the Labour Senators for doing so and I am not patronising them by saying that. It is good that we have a Government which recognised the issue and took concerted action on it.
It is important to note some important statistics in respect of alcohol. In 2001, Ireland ranked second after Luxembourg for alcohol consumption with a rate of 11.4 litres of pure alcohol per capita. The EU average is approximately 9.1 litres per capita. Due to the seriousness of the problem, the Minister for Health and Children established a strategic task force on alcohol early in 2001. The remit of this task force was to provide advice to the Government and public bodies on the measures to prevent and reduce alcohol harm.
We can trot out statistics ad nauseam, but there are two matters that remain to be resolved. The Minister for Health and Children is determined to ensure that smoking in public places and in areas where people gather for social reasons will be outlawed. This will happen and the Government's proposals on it will be supported in both Houses.
We have take a balanced and fair approach to this issue. I delighted to be informed at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that the Vintners Federation and the IVF have advised their members not to stock alcopops. While this advice has found favour with many of their members, I reiterate that some of them have not complied with it. The vast majority of people who sell tobacco products and alcohol are responsible individuals; it is the exceptions to the rule we have to root out.
I commend the amendment to the House.
I will confine my remarks to the issue of smoking because the issue of alcohol consumption has been thrashed out previously. As a representative of publicans, I must state that we do not condone the abuse of alcohol. I estimate that 99% of people go out to enjoy a drink and do not cause trouble. It is disturbing when one sees reports about alcohol consumption on programmes such as "Prime Time", but we are discussing perhaps only 1% of the population. No one would have time for publicans or anyone else who serves alcohol to serve people who have had too much to drink.
With regard to smoking, publicans are concerned about the health of our patrons and staff. However, it will be very difficult to enforce this legislation. There will have to be a compromise somewhere along the line. There are areas in Dublin – such as Dardale, Coolock, Tallaght, Ballymun and Finglas – where there are large pubs of a kind that do not exist in other parts—
That is another issue. I do not know how these proposals could be enforced without major difficulties – verging on riot situations – arising in these pubs.
An individual in New York was stabbed to death when he interfered with somebody who was smoking. I hope that will never happen here. It will be difficult to police the no smoking ban in pubs with 600 or 700 customers where eight or ten individuals who are sitting together drinking decide to smoke. I hate to think of what might happen if a barman tried to enforce the no smoking rule in such circumstances. This is one area about which I am concerned. I hope that, in all pubs – but particularly large establishments – small areas will be designated for committed or chain smokers to allow them to smoke away from the presence of the remainder of the patrons and the bar staff.
We carried out a survey recently in which it was found that 70% of staff in public houses in Dublin smoke. At present, the owners of some establishments are being obliged change work rosters in order to ensure that staff who do not smoke do not have to work with those who do.
There are the small, country pubs where, for generations, people have gone after working on the farm all day and lit a pipe or smoked a cigarette. I do not know how a publican in such an establishment will approach someone he has known for 30 or 40 years and inform them they are no longer entitled to smoke there. That will create major problems. Most of those pubs would be able to set aside space to allow the people to whom I refer to smoke and not bother anybody else.
The other area I wish to address is ventilation. There are ventilation systems available which facilitate a complete change of air every three minutes. There are several pubs in Dublin that have already installed this system. I cannot understand how, if the air in a pub is changed every three minutes, smoking could endanger the patrons' health. One would be safer there than on O'Connell Street with the exhaust fumes from buses, cars and other vehicles.
These proposals will have a major effect on tourism. Ireland will be the only country in Europe that will have a total ban on smoking. It should be remembered that between 30% to 35% of the population in every country smokes. I recently returned from Portugal where people are permitted to smoke in bars, restaurants and cafes. The same applies in Spain. Until now, when booking a hotel in Ireland, one could ask for a smoking or non-smoking room. Soon we will have a situation where there will be no smoking. One will not be able to smoke in a hotel lobby, restaurant, bar or bedroom. I cannot see why anybody who smokes would decide to come to Ireland for a holiday. This is an area that should be examined.
Regarding the mortality rate of bar staff, my association and an independent organisation conducted a survey on this matter. We have a large number of pensioners who worked in the bar trade all their lives. The mortality rate among these people is, if anything, no greater than that of people who are not involved in the pub trade. I cannot see how people can argue that smoking is major danger to bar staff.
There is a total ban on smoking in New York. I recently spoke to a friend who owns seven pubs in Manhattan and other areas of New York. Trade is down 25% to 30% since the total ban on smoking was introduced. If that were to happen here, I would hate to think what would happen to 80% or 90% of publicans. Again, I say to the Minister of State there should be a compromise somewhere along the line to look after the welfare of the public and staff, and that of publicans.
First, I apologise for Senator Feighan's absence. He wanted to lead on this issue tonight as it falls within his brief. I congratulate the Labour Party on bringing forward this motion.
On smoking, there is no distinction between the types of substances smoked. I was in England a week ago where the major trend seems to be in the direction of smoking cannabis. Perhaps it has not hit here to the same extent, or perhaps it has. I am not aware of it because I am not a smoker. However, I would like to indicate my viewpoint briefly. At the weekend I was in a quaint bar in my area. There is a small light that comes down over the bar counter. At one stage towards the end of the night as I watched the smoke rise above it there was an old guy drinking his bottle of stout and a half one and smoking a pipe. I do not think my vison was blurred but it would have made the most romantic photograph – if that is the right word – or snapshot. It was idyllic and romantic.
We have to look at the major reports and the push being made by the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation and be realistic, not romantic, in our notion of smoking in bars. I say this without being in any way self-righteous about the matter because I do not smoke. While smokers should have choice – I do not want this to sound like a cliché – they do impinge on others if they are in a closed environment without proper ventilation. Research has proved that passive smokers suffer as a result of inhalation. I am, therefore, definitely in favour of the legislation to come through in January 2004 and commend the Minister for State on bringing it forward. I hope he keeps the momentum going because I have taken soundings from bar staff in my area and those who do not smoke find that their physical well-being suffers as a result of being behind the bar when there are smokers present. There is a percentage of those who go to discos who do not smoke but when they have a few drinks, they make a habit of taking cigarettes from smokers. I include myself in that group. I do not smoke but when I get to a disco, I might occasionally have a cigarette. The new legislation might curtail this habit.
I would like to expand a little on drinking because there are two large issues before us today and time does not afford us an opportunity to go into both of them now. I notice that the two Labour Party speakers spoke mainly about the smoking issue but in the time remaining to me I would like to make a few comments on drinking. We have to start with the premise that Irish people love to drink. At times we seem to take pride in this fact. I recall that during the World Cup match in Orlando in which we were competing with the Dutch we were proud of the fact that we could drink more than them, party longer and wake up earlier to start drinking again. I say this without being self-righteous because I take a drink and enjoy a pint, perhaps too much at times.
Last weekend when I spent time with my two younger brothers, one aged 24 years and the other 26, I was introduced to their world of drinking. It is a very disciplined lifestyle. They do not drink from Sunday to Thursday. They only drink on Friday and Saturday. As last weekend was a bank holiday weekend, they drank on Saturday and Sunday. The general trend among the younger age group – this is not a generalisation because it is evident from talking to parents – is that there is a drinking indulgence which is expressed in jargon like, "to go flat out for the weekend". On Saturday when I asked one young man whether he was going out on Sunday again, he said, in jest, "I am going to go at it tomorrow like a day's work." I found that remark quite funny but humour apart, he was honest about his drinking. He was going to get his burger and chips at 4 a.m., have a good rest and be up and at it again at 11 a.m. or 12 noon the next day. I, therefore, agree with the part of the motion which relates to advertising. Whatever we can do we must do. As legislators, we have to try everything to tackle the drinking crisis because comments such as these are the language used in peer groups of young men. It is probably not dissimilar in groups of young women but I am reflecting what a young male in his early 20s said to me.
The social trend has to be examined. We have to look at it in a very critical light and be proactive. We have to be creative in our thinking and while it may sound contradictory, if imposing regulations is creative thinking, let us do it. Let us be self-righteous about it. My party colleague, Deputy Deasy, has taken a lot of criticism but he has done his homework and researched the issue as it affects young men, in respect of whom there is a trend, an association between suicide and drink. If necessary, as legislators, we will have to make hard decisions. I am in total agreement with the motion.
Sometimes we have to look at the issue in a holistic way. Every time I mention mental health I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, who has been proactive in his movements. Many young men are coming into the psychiatric unit at the hospital in Letterkenny and the language being used is that they are cracking up or depressed but much of the problem relates to drink. The onus is on us, as legislators. We have a massive task ahead of us. A cultural change is required. I am fully behind the Labour Party in relation to the motion. It marks a start on the mountain we have to climb.
I welcome the Minister of State once again. I suppose it is unusual to be delighted to speak to the motion and the amendment. I am smiling because when I saw Senator McCarthy come in, I was going to quote what he said on the Order of Business on 18 April but I will not embarass him. I am too fond of him to do so. I will leave it for another day.
Other speakers have talked about three groups which communicated with us over the Easter recess: the Irish Cancer Society, ASH and the Irish Heart Foundation. For the first time ever I have seen forceful communication from each of them asking us to support the Minister for Health and Children in the proposed legislation to ban smoking in public places. If all three are writing to us, there must be something terribly wrong. This is the most important health initiative to come our way in a long time. As one of the groups pointed out, we, as legislators, have a responsibility to legislate and to do so in the right way on this issue, on which we should be leading.
Some 70% of the population do not smoke. I heard my colleague Senator Bohan say that 70% of bar workers smoke, but surely the 30% of them who do not smoke have a right to clean air. I do not feel that is too much to ask for that 30% of non-smokers. I have no difficulty with a person's right to smoke, but I have a huge difficulty with the fact that so many non-smokers are harmed by passive smoking. There is well-established evidence regarding the very harmful effects of passive smoking on non-smokers. Passive smoking is the single biggest indoor air pollutant to which workers are exposed in the workplace.
I was really touched by the ASH letter from Dr. Fenton Howell which said that 7,000 of our citizens die annually from smoking-related diseases. This is a scandal. If the same figure applied to our roads, building sites or waterways, we would search high and low for effective solutions. At the bottom of the ASH notepaper, in red print, it was stated that smoking kills six times more people in Ireland each year than road accidents, work accidents, drugs, murder, suicides and AIDS combined.
I was interested to read an article entitled, "What is passive smoking?" It gave the breakdown of the cocktail of drugs that one gets from smoking a cigarette and from passive smoking. I cannot tell what passive smoking really involves because I got depressed and very scared for myself as I started to read the article.
I will let that go. I know what Senator McHugh was alluding to. He and I often meet in an establishment on Baggot Street and we come out with sore eyes, runny noses, itchy throats and coughs, and we complain about these in this House the following day. They are some of the effects that we notice while we are in that environment, but what about the effects that are causing the cancer, the chest problems, the heart disease and the strokes? They are building up, and we do not realise they are happening to us until it is far too late. It was put to me that when the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, introduced the levy on plastic bags, people were outraged and said it would never work. The introduction of the levy is history today. Who do we ever see carrying a plastic bag? None of us wants to have anything to do with plastic. If we introduce a smoking ban, it will be accepted in this way.
When we fly to the other side of the world and find ourselves on a plane for more than 15 hours, no one is smoking on those planes. We have to get on with it. Nobody would wish smoking to be allowed on planes ever again, not alone because of the harmful health effects involved, but for other obvious reasons.
I support the Minister for State and the Government in this legislation. We should use the run-in time to educate society about the positive effects that the legislation will have and to reach out to smokers. I really feel for them. I have brothers in the pub trade, and they are roaring at me and eating my ears off, asking me to do something about this legislation. I say no, that I agree with the legislation, and the sooner it is implemented the better.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the terrible effects of alcohol, especially on our younger population. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I have listened to consultants from the accident and emergency units around our country, and particularly Dublin city. I have also listened to the vintners' representatives. It is outrageous that we have so many under age as well as over age young people drinking and causing the social havoc they do every weekend on our streets. It is true, as Senator McHugh pointed out, that they abstain from drink for five nights of the week, and then go on binges at weekends. It is scary. The most horrifying statistic to come from the Rotunda Hospital relating to girls who were raped is the fact that rohypnol was not found in the toxicology. Alcohol is probably the rape drug of today.
I welcome the Minister or State to the House. Like Senator Feeney, I could really support both the motion and the amendment. It is a pity the Government felt it had to put down an amendment, because we all realise we have a very serious problem with both alcohol and tobacco. It is not just our problem but a problem in many countries, and it is important that we look at the international aspect and the all-island aspect. Like Senator Feeney again, I am on the Joint Committee on Health and Children, and we had the good fortune to have very useful inputs regarding alcohol and tobacco from people in the Department of Health and Children, the consultants from the hospital casualty departments and representatives from the sexual assault treatment unit in the Rotunda, which Senator Feeney talked about. They all came before us with very useful contributions.
After the Order of Business today, I went to the Dáil to listen to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, taking questions and abuse, as it could be called, regarding the current state of the health services, which definitely face problems. I was sad to see that only his Ministers of State were there to support him. There were no other members of the Government present, nor indeed were there any backbenchers while I was there. The man deserves support because he has a very difficult portfolio, and it has not been made any better by the serious problems associated with the use of tobacco and the misuse of alcohol. Suppose the Minister had stood up today and said he intended to save 20% in casualty departments by saying that anyone who arrived there drunk would be slung out, and similarly anyone who arrived with tobacco-related diseases. Let us remember the way the grasshopper and the ant spoke to each other. The grasshopper danced all summer, and when he had no food in the winter, the ant said: "You danced in the summer, now sing." The Minister could try saying something like that to those with tobacco-related diseases, because they are costing us a fortune.
While there has been some decrease in the use of tobacco, we have to look very seriously at tobacco advertising. Senator McHugh talked about young men and drink, and I would like to talk about advertising and young women. We had a very good presentation from the Department of Health and Children officials, Mr. Eamon Corcoran, Ms McEvoy and Mr. Ó Dufaigh regarding the new directive from the European Union on tobacco advertising, which is to come in within a couple of months.
As we know, the previous directive was brought down by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it covered forms of advertising which had no trans-national implications and therefore exceeded its legal basis under Article 95 of the European Union Treaty. The present directive is being brought forward to take account of the Court's decision, and it is narrower in scope, but it is hoped that it strikes a balance between complying with internal market rules and the need for a high level of public health protection. On a national basis we can be even more determined than the directive is.
I very much support what the Minister for Health and Children intends doing about banning tobacco in public places. I have been to Ottawa and Halifax, and the pubs there are still open and doing very good business as far as I could see, despite the fact that tobacco had been banned there only a few months previously. People who were working in these establishments told me that it was a godsend to them. They said the bar trade decreased for a while but that the table trade had increased. They said there had not been a decline in their fortunes and I would expect the same to happen here.
The officials of the Department of Health and Children raised the matter of indirect advertising and this worried me. The new directive does not deal with indirect advertising, namely, the use of tobacco brand names and logos on non-tobacco products. They expanded on this by saying that more countries were going to impose partial and total bans on indirect tobacco advertising as the industry had been found to be adept at finding creative new ways to publicise brands, particularly among young people. This is known as "brand stretching". The tobacco industry, like the drinks industry, invests heavily in this. Logos are put on clothes, boots, travel bags, fashion accessories, coffee, alcohol, etc., and these are then heavily marketed. This maintains brand recognition without appearing to advertise the products.
I wondered if this happened much. When exiting the gates of Leinster House on the day in question, I met one man wearing a T-shirt with the brand "Camel" on it and a young woman wearing a T-shirt that had "Campbell's Grouse Whisky" written across her bosom. These are not things I would associate with wearing T-shirts and I was quite surprised to see them. They obviously exist, however, and until they are pointed out, one may not notice them.
I strongly feel that the advertising of both alcohol and tobacco is directed at young women. I say this because I have seen advertisements for alcohol in places that only women frequent. For example, in the women's lavatories in the arts block in Trinity College, there is an advertisement for a pub on the door announcing a special offer of three vodkas for €10. While Senator Bohan will probably tell me that this is quite expensive, I am not currently in the vodka buying business and it seems to be quite a good deal. That was definitely encouraging binge drinking or, as Dr. Anne Hope from the alcohol unit of the Department describes it, "crash drinking".
I do not know if Members saw the three young women in Belfast – I have no reason to think things would be different in Dublin – on television some nights ago being asked about how much they would drink on a regular night out. One said she drank three cocktails, one shot and five vodkas, another drank three cocktails, two shots and six vodkas and the final one drank something similar. That is an incredible amount of drink for girls of 19 and 20. At the end of the interview, all the drinks were lined up on a table and an expert on alcohol problems was asked for his opinion on it. He said it would have been more than enough to drink in a week. These young women did not consider this to be an enormous amount to drink on a night out.
This crash drinking is the kind of thing Dr. Anne Hope told us about. Young people drink not to enjoy themselves, rather to get drunk in the same way as taking drugs. I support what Senator Feeney said about the reports of rohypnol being put in people's drinks – alcohol, not rohypnol, is the rape drug.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Senator Henry mentioned the directive adopted by the Council of Ministers late last year. I had the honour of representing Ireland at the meeting where the directive was adopted. As the Senator pointed out, it does not apply to indirect advertising, it only contains a ban on direct advertising. In my discussions with Ministers from other member states, I discovered that Ireland was far ahead in the progress it has made on restricting advertising of tobacco products. There was considerable resistance from the Federal German Republic to the adoption of any directive and the British Government also refused to support the directive. The qualified majority voting procedures had to be invoked to carry the directive through at the meeting. The Irish vote was decisive, given that Ireland was the final country called to speak before the objecting states.
Our reservations on the directive related to the matter raised by Senator Henry about whether it would restrict our competence to deal with this by proscribing an EU minimum that would somehow become a maximum. I stated the Government's position that Ireland wants to retain national power in this matter so that we could take further measures, such as those being discussed here, to deal with this problem.
While I welcome the motion tabled by Senators Ryan and O'Meara, I am not sure that there is a great difference in the substance between it and that tabled by the Government. The Government was anxious that its position be set out with clarity. Our motion clearly reflects the Government's position. When Senators hear me outline this position, they will understand the precise reasons for the wording of the Government motion.
The adverse impact of tobacco consumption has been canvassed in this debate. I repeat the core issue: tobacco smoke can kill and cause illness – including lung cancer and other forms of cancer, heart disease, strokes, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases – in many ways. Over 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to tobacco-related illness. Smoking tobacco products is a singularly unhealthy act. Inhalation of second-hand tobacco smoke by non-smokers, commonly referred to as passive smoking, also poses a substantial health risk. There is an international scientific consensus that second-hand smoke can kill and cause disease. One does not have to be a smoker to acquire cancer caused by cigarette smoker.
This addresses an issue raised by Senator Ryan. He said that while, as a libertarian, he could not instinctively agree with prohibitions on tobacco, that we must have it. This is not a libertarian issue. If one's conduct harms others, legislators are entitled to restrict such conduct. The issue of passive smoking is important in this debate. We are not simply restricting the liberty of the individual; we are restricting the liberty of the individual in order to protect others. Classical liberal theorists from John Stewart Mill onward have always realised that society is entitled to restrict liberty to protect others.
Senators should not underestimate the huge battle we will have with public opinion on this issue and Senator Bohan adverted to this. From visits I have made to schools, there is no doubt that there is huge public resistance to the idea of a smoking ban. In visiting schools in my constituency, I was concerned to see the depth of opposition, particularly from younger females, to the idea of a total ban on cigarette smoking at licensed premises. There will be a huge battle to win public opinion. Successive Governments have conducted this battle and we are proposing to carry it a stage further in putting the ban in place.
Senators should be aware that the primary legislation is on the Statute Book in the form of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002. The ban announced by the Minister is intended to come into force on 1 January 2004 and can proceed by way of ministerial regulations. These will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The practical concerns of those that will have to administer the law can be looked at and examined by the Minister, but the wider cultural issue is very important. We have to convince public opinion that this is essential for all the good reasons outlined by Senators in the course of this debate.
On 30 January 2003, at the launch of the report on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace, the Minister for Health and Children announced that a prohibition on smoking in all places of work, including licensed premises, would be introduced from 1 January 2004. The primary purpose of the prohibition is to protect the health and safety of workers and the public from toxic environmental tobacco smoke. Draft regulations were published which have been notified to the European Commission in accordance with the transparency directive. The ban will mean a massive cultural change right around the country. The period allowed before its full introduction will give people the time needed to adjust and change.
There is widespread public support for this measure. Many do not smoke and many who do regret starting and want to quit. Many are trying. The primary reasons for quitting are health concerns. Smoking bans, with other measures, are an encouragement and support to smokers trying to break their addiction. I was delighted to hear Senator Glynn mention parental responsibility. We speak of so many measures that we have to adopt as a State in many areas where there are social problems, yet in this area, as in the areas of alcohol and juvenile offending, the role of parents is also fundamental. The example and direction parents give are very important.
Since his announcement the Minister for Health and Children has carried out a consultation process with interested parties regarding implementation. There has been a positive response to the measure from a wide range of groups, including the trade unions and the hotel and restaurant industry. In addition to the health benefits, there are other advantages from workplace smoking bans, including less absenteeism from smoking related illnesses, reduced fire hazards and reductions in maintenance and decoration costs.
The Office of Tobacco Control which the Minister for Health and Children set up to oversee implementation of the national tobacco control programme is consulting representatives of the hospitality industry, the trade unions and the enforcement agencies. It is working to develop a code of practice for the hospitality sector to assist with the introduction of the new measure.
The ban on smoking in the workplace is one of a number of measures being taken in the area of tobacco control. A number of other positive steps to reduce tobacco consumption have already been taken. The age limit for sale of cigarettes to persons has been raised from 16 to 18 years. Advertising of tobacco products in newspapers and magazines has been ended. Sponsorship of events by the tobacco industry has also been ended. Nicotine replacement therapy was made available to all medical card holders who smoke. The national break the habit campaign was developed in partnership with the Department of Health and Children, the Irish Cancer Society and the health boards. Additional smoking cessation officers have been recruited by health boards and there have been sustained media advertising campaigns directed at preventing young people, especially younger women, from taking up smoking.
Recent figures published as part of the SLAN national health and lifestyle surveys show a significant drop in smoking prevalence in the population from 31% in 1998 to 27% in 2002. This figure represents about 100,000 fewer smokers. The measures taken have contributed to this welcome reduction in smoking prevalence. I am confident that the ban on workplace smoking will contribute further to reductions in smoking.
Tobacco is a significant burden on individuals, families and society through death, illness and medical costs. In Ireland the State assumes most of the costs of health care. Measures such as workplace bans on smoking are vital if we are to continue to reduce this burden. Even a modest reduction in the huge burden of disease caused by tobacco consumption would result in significant health gains.
The Minister for Health and Children has made the threat to public health from tobacco one of his priorities. The Government's tobacco free initiative will continue to include strong legislative measures which are important public health instruments in tackling tobacco consumption. I salute also the work done by many voluntary organisations in this area. Senator Feeney highlighted many of the contributions they have made to raising the issue and putting it high in the public consciousness.
In the last decade Ireland has had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among European Union countries. Between 1989 and 2001 alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland increased by 49% while ten European Union member states showed a decrease and three others showed a modest increase during the same period. In 2001 Ireland ranked second highest after Luxembourg for alcohol consumption with a rate of 11.4 litres of pure alcohol per capita. The EU average is approximately 9.1 litres per capita.While the quantity of alcohol consumed is of concern, so too is the pattern of consumption. Drinking patterns have been influenced by changing lifestyles and expectations, more disposable income and a strong focus on consumerism. This has ensured a dynamic relationship between the marketplace and the consumer. Young adults between 18 and 25 years of age are more likely to engage in binge drinking but drink less frequently than older age groups. The pattern of drinking is also significant in that acute problems such as trips and falls, alcohol poisoning, incidents of unintentional sexual behaviour, public order offences tend to occur when individuals drink to excess on a single occasion.
The adverse effects of alcohol extend beyond physical health issues to mental, social and financial problems. There is a continuum of problems which can affect everyone across the community. These problems range from a once off problem such as falls, accidents, fights, unprotected sex and violence, to a recurring problem such as poor school work performance, financial hardship, difficulties in relationships, chronic illness such as cancer, liver damage and a sustained dependence on alcohol. Some of these problems, especially those which can be described as acute, arise where the light or moderate drinker drinks to excess on a single drinking occasion, while others result from regular heavy drinking over a longer period. Therefore, drinking patterns can have an important influence on the level and extent of alcohol related harm in young people and across the whole population.
The national alcohol policy was published in 1996 with the overall aim of reducing the level of alcohol related problems and promoting moderation for those who wished to drink. Since the publication of the policy, several important initiatives have taken place, utilising the health promotion settings approach such as schools, informal youth sector and colleges. New research, training programmes and greater enforcement of regulations have been implemented.
An important development has been the establishment of a strategic task force on alcohol which published a report in May 2002 which recommended measures in six key areas for immediate action. The main thrust was to protect health and enhance public safety as well as creating an environment that helped persons make healthy choices. A memorandum relating to the recommendations of the task force has been discussed and agreed by Government. The interdepartmental group has now been established to progress the recommendations and co-ordinate responses to them. There was no disagreement on policy between different members of the Government on this question. As Minister of State with responsibility for children, I arranged a meeting with the relevant Ministers and there was a consensus of opinion in the Government in relation to this matter.
One of the recommendations of the task force concerns limiting the exposure of children and adolescents to alcohol marketing. This includes limiting where alcohol advertisements can be placed and regulating their content to ensure they do not appeal to children. Officials from the Department of Health and Children have begun preliminary work on legislation in relation to this recommendation and the heads of a Bill should be available shortly. The primary aims of this measure will be to protect children and reduce the pressure on adolescents to drink. Other initiatives of the health promotion unit aimed at tackling alcohol misuse have involved the college setting, the informal youth setting, schools and the drinks trade.
In response to a growing concern about alcohol promotion practices on campus, high risk drinking among students and its impact on student academic performance and student attrition, the health promotion unit produced a document entitled, A Framework for the Development of a College Alcohol Policy, which has been prepared in association with the heads of the colleges and the Union of Students in Ireland. The framework provides guidelines for a comprehensive approach which include measures on controlling promotion, sponsorship and marketing. The aim of the guidelines is to limit harm in the drinking environment, increase awareness and education, encourage alternatives and choices and provide campus support services. Each third level institution can adopt the guidelines to reflect the needs and aspirations of its campus environment.
The National Youth Council of Ireland, with support from the health promotion unit, initiated a national project which provided opportunities for young people between 14 and 16 years of age to explore their relationship with alcohol. The process culminated in the development of resource materials for youth leaders working with young persons in the non-formal sector. The project, Its your Choice, illustrates creative ways of working with young people on alcohol awareness using arts and media based techniques. Training is provided for youth leaders to ensure the implementation of this initiative.
The settings approach, as outlined in the health promotion strategy, means combining healthy policies in a healthy environment with complementary education programmes and initiatives. The development of the national curriculum in health education – social, personal and health education – the promotion of policies on alcohol and drugs, the greater involvement of parents and communities under the health promoting school concept ensure a comprehensive and effective long-term approach in education. Training and resource development continue to be integral parts of policy. The Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science and the regional health boards are key players in these initiatives. By September 2003, all schools must make provision for this social, personal and health initiative on the school curriculum.
The responsible serving of alcohol – RSA – programme is a training initiative which was developed specifically for those who work in the bar trade and hospitality sector. It was devised and developed by the health promotion unit in partnership with the drinks industry group, vintners associations and CERT. The aim of the programme is to limit harm in the drinking environment by not serving to intoxicated customers, encouraging the use of age cards to prevent under age people from being served and promoting alternative strategies to reduce drink driving.
The health promotion unit is also currently running an alcohol awareness campaign entitled Think Before You Drink – Less is More. The initial aim of the campaign was to raise awareness of alcohol-related issues and problems as a public health issue, highlight results of research findings which demonstrated the scale of the problem and raise these issues for public debate. The first phase of the campaign emphasised that alcohol involved choices for the individual and that there were benefits in not depending on alcohol for a good time. Phase two of the campaign targeted those who buy, supply or sell alcohol to under age drinkers. It consisted of radio advertisements and posters which were displayed in approximately 12,000 pubs, off-licences and retail outlets where alcohol is sold. The emphasis was that everyone should play their part by not making alcohol accessible to young people.
Another initiative involved the printing of sensible drinking advice on airline ticket wallets which were circulated by the health promotion unit to holidaymakers via travel agents. These coincided with the summer holiday season and examination results and reinforced the message of having a great time, rather than being too out of it to really experience the moment. The latest phase of the campaign specifically targets the 18-29 year old binge drinker in the settings of colleges, communities and the workplace. A national advertising campaign on television and radio highlights the concept of excess. The health promotion unit has also developed information materials to help spread the key messages of the campaign.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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In particular, the programme shown by the national broadcaster before Christmas did much to raise awareness of the extent and scale of this problem. A vigilant public press and commentary in the broadcast media can do far more than tonnes of propaganda in this area. In saying this, I do not decry the valuable work done in the health promotion unit. It is important work and it is important that these programmes are established and their messages targeted at particular individuals. However, in the type of communications world in which we live, it is tremendous to see that journalists, commentators and broadcasters are playing their part in highlighting the problem.
The health promotion unit has commissioned a number of research projects on alcohol related matters. These include research in accident and emergency departments, research into the impact of alcohol advertising on teenagers, public attitudes to policy change and alcohol research in the general practitioner setting.
The Commission on Liquor Licensing has recommended in its final report that enforcement powers under the licensing laws be extended to include non-uniformed members of the Garda. At present, it appears that the activities of non-uniformed offers are confined to drugs related offences. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has welcomed the commission's recommendation and is prepared to act on it in future intoxicating liquor legislation.
The position regarding the temporary closure of licensed premises is that this penalty is currently applied to premises convicted of under age drinking offences. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has announced that the licensing laws will be amended to provide that this penalty will also apply to convictions for allowing drunkenness or disorderly conduct on licensed premises, or supplying alcohol to a drunken person. Future legislation will also prohibit promotional practices that are likely to result in excessive consumption of alcohol and it is intended that the temporary closure penalty will also apply to convictions in this area.
While the barriers to reducing tobacco and alcohol-related harm are significant, the measures I have outlined this evening will make significant inroads in tackling these issues.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and thank him for his contribution.
On 16 April last I informed the House about an incident in a New York nightclub where a patron who was asked by a bouncer to extinguish his cigarette was stabbed and subsequently died after six or seven hours in hospital. I conditioned my comments on the Order of Business that day by saying that I supported and endorsed what the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, is attempting to do in introducing a ban on smoking.
I am a smoker and I recognise the dangers associated with the habit. The implementation of this ban will be cumbersome and troublesome and will lead to massive opposition in some quarters, but I believe such opposition is not merited. As legislators, we are trusted to make decisions which are difficult and may hurt some people. There are those will be hurt more than others and some will be hurt in their pockets. Nevertheless, I hope the ban will be introduced and given widescale support.
There is much evidence to show that the level of alcohol consumption is related to the harm being visited on young people. The problem is growing. The level of violence associated with alcohol consumption is there for all to see. Seldom does a weekend go by when we do not hear about an innocent person being set upon by a drunken thug. This has led to situations such as that which arose in Cork last year when an innocent person was beaten by a mindless, drunken lout. That is the result of the abuse of alcohol. The recent incident in Grafton Street is another illustration of how far this problem has gone.
Of course, it is a sad indictment of our society that young people who are drinking more than moderate levels have had very good teachers. Much needs to be done by older and more mature adults so that young people can follow good example.
There is evidence to suggest that the long-term health of young people is associated with their level of alcohol consumption. This worrying trend is, unfortunately, a facet of our society. Another recent trend is that while young males drink more than young females, the gender gap is narrowing and some experts tell us that girls are starting to drink at a younger age than boys and are drinking more than them. Senator Henry referred to the worrying phenomenon of drug rape. Regarding rohypnol as the sole cause of date rape may be a blinkered approach. Excessive use of alcohol may be the worst form of drug rape.
I was heartened recently by the decision of some people in the GAA to review the association's contract with Guinness, which sponsors the hurling championship. The GAA is locked into a ten year agreement by which Guinness sponsors this competition. While it is not suggested that the GAA will pull out of the deal it will review it when the contract comes to an end in two years' time. That is a welcome development. Leadership is required from all of us, but particularly from the large sporting organisations. I am convinced that much of their sponsorship revenue could be accrued from other sources. Sponsorship from drinks companies casts sports associations in a light which is not helpful in curbing the amount of under age drinking. Massive amounts of money have been spent on attempting to glamorise alcohol. They are trying to make their product look sexy and glamorous and, therefore, appeal to a young audience.
The advent of alcopops makes the transition from soft drinks to alcoholic drinks that bit easier, which is dangerous. I was in a pub recently and noticed a girl going to the crowded bar, where people knew they would have to queue for drinks, and ordering a quadruple vodka with a Red Bull. She drank that not in the time it would take the average person to drink a spirit and a mixer but as quickly as it took her friends to drink a pint. That is worrying because it could lead to dangerous scenarios. Red Bull advertisements on the national broadcaster state, "It gives you wings." They make this product look like something that makes the consumer feels better but we know the reality of the situation.
Guidelines were recently launched on the management of alcohol related problems in hospitals that advised doctors admitting patients to take a detailed history of the patient's alcohol consumption over the previous month and to follow up with information on where he or she could get help for the addiction. They are also advised to refer the patient to psychiatric services and alcohol counselling. Doctors are worried that they could be swamped by this but we need professional organisations to offer help and support to those addicted to alcohol. We all know about the good work done in private treatment centres but there is not the same level of success in the public sector.
Professor David Schaffer, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University, New York, recently spoke at a conference in the Mater Hospital. He said that raising the age at which alcohol could be bought in the United States from 18 to 21 years had a significant effect on suicide rates among adolescents, with a 12% decrease in the number of young males committing suicide.
This whole complex area jumps off the screens at us week after week. I urge the Minister for Health and Children to put in place tougher guidelines that would monitor and restrict advertising that promotes alcohol in a way that makes it look glamorous to young people. I also call on the Minister to look at a ban on the promotion of major sports events by alcohol companies.
I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him and his colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, on the huge strides that have been made in both alcohol and tobacco consumption.
Alcohol itself is not a problem – as a nation, we enjoy a drink – but irresponsible and abusive consumption is. We have examined alcohol related problems and carried out myriad studies of the topic. A recent European study contained the shocking estimate that alcohol abuse cost Irish society €2.4 billion per year.
Senator McCarthy mentioned alcohol advertising and young people. There are huge pressures on teenagers today because of advertising. Changes have been made in the tobacco industry and the same should be done in the alcohol industry; there is already discussion of sponsorship of rugby and GAA games and a raging debate in Formula One motor racing about the advertising of tobacco products on cars – some countries allow it while others do not but the sport still continues in those countries where it is prohibited.
Personal choice is an issue. Consumption of alcohol and tobacco are personal choices. Certain sections of society, however, have a huge part to play in this area, particularly general practitioners. I welcome the Minister's announcement that the Irish College of General Practitioners is involved in the development of alcohol awareness projects which will prove effective in treating some of the consequences of alcohol abuse.
Schools and teachers have a role to play. The SPHE programme will be in place in schools by September and is a major step forward. Senator Glynn referred to parental responsibility. It is up to us to set an example. Under age drinking is not a new phenomenon, it has been with us for a long time but young people now have much greater access to alcohol. The rise in consumption is directly linked to the rise in disposable income. Young people like to experiment, a further element in the equation. Patterns can be identified at an early age. This is where education can target young people. Colleges and secondary schools have done a great deal but primary schools should be included. Young people are aware of alcohol at 11 or 12 years of age. They see it on the street, on television and hear it on the radio and should be educated about it.
There is a direct link between the abuse of alcohol and the suicide rate. Other problems include unwanted pregnancies and injuries to the person arising from the abuse of alcohol, of which people must be made aware.
As a smoker, I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children for his efforts to reduce tobacco consumption. I have no problem with the suggested ban on smoking in pubs. I remember when smoking was banned on aeroplanes, a friend told me he would die on the seven hour journey to New York without a cigarette but he made it – it is that simple, it is a personal choice.
It is significant that this debate is taking place. Recently there have been more debates in the Oireachtas and the media about alcohol abuse. It is strange that this problem has been with us for so long but it took RTE's "Prime Time" programme to expose anti-social behaviour throughout the State as a result of alcohol abuse by young people. When parents saw young females being brought to emergency rooms in hospitals stoned out of their minds, some of whom were close to death because of alcohol consumption, they sat up and realised that it was time to focus on this serious problem and do something about it.
The good thing is that the media have responded well. They have responded positively in editorials and feature articles and on follow-up programmes to "Prime Time". This indicates a change to the blind eye culture which hitherto existed. It was not long ago that film stars used cigarettes or pipes as a prop to their acting. They became role models and people copied them, but there was a culture change in this area. It is important that this should have happened, although with alcohol the opposite is happening. Most of the television soap stories, such as those on "Coronation Street" or "Fair City" are situated in pubs. Constant viewers tend to internalise these images and subconsciously emulate them.
A partnership approach is required. The emphasis on legislation is vital because legislators have the right and the responsibility to protect others. If there was any other dangerous activity we would have to intervene. Why should smoking or alcohol abuse be any different? Regardless of how much legislation is enacted, however, unless we can create a partnership across society to address this problem we will not make a breakthrough. This is apparent in what the Minster and others have said.
I am also concerned that, like everything else, the effects of the "Prime Time" programme will fade as something else takes centre stage. If we strike now while the iron is hot, when concern is evident and when people are focused on wanting to do something, we can create a partnership that will bring about results. It is not a matter of engaging in ceremonial debate in the Seanad every couple of months. We must tackle the problem at a much deeper level.
This is not a question of being anti-liberal or preventing people from having choices. We owe it to the young generation to allow them to be young and to have the opportunities we had. Debates such as this are taking place because of public demand and the public will be grateful to any Government that responds to the concerns that have been expressed.
I am a non-smoker. I have never enjoyed smoking and could be categorised as an anti-smoker. However, even I realise that smokers have rights. My concern with the proposed smoking ban centres on the question of enforcement. The penalty points system was introduced before Christmas and is encountering problems with regard to enforcement.
Will the Minister outline how the proposed smoking ban will be enforced? Like many other Senators, perhaps, I worked in a pub when I was a student and I am sure they will share my concerns. I am particularly concerned with what will happen in super-pubs, where there could be a few hundred customers and many of them could be unknown to the management. Theory is all very well, but reality is a different matter.
I am concerned with the use of sweeping generalisations and the categorisation of smoking as an unhealthy act. There are many other unhealthy acts. For example, it could be argued, perhaps incorrectly, that engaging in politics is unhealthy. I was surprised to learn that MANDATE, which is in favour of the smoking ban in pubs, represents only a tiny percentage of the number of workers involved in pubs.
I have discussed the proposed ban with many people, including those working in pubs, smokers and anti-smokers. One person made a valid point by highlighting the fact that if there was a need for non-smoking pubs, they would surely already be in existence. In the past, non-smoking pubs have failed miserably because the public did not frequent them. That is not to say that they will not work on this occasion, but I am concerned about how the ban will be imposed.
I question the idea of segregation. In some pubs it would be physically possible to have a separate lounge or bar which would allow for smoking in one area. However, this would not be possible in open-plan pubs. The Minister of State is to be commended for acknowledging that it would be a farce to allow for smoking and non-smoking areas without some kind of barrier. However, this approach could be considered in certain types of pub.
The question of ventilation must also be reconsidered. I have been informed today that a new ventilation system can completely re-circulate air in a pub in less than three minutes. That option should considered. I am posing questions rather than solutions and I look forward to the Minister of State's response.
How will the new regulations be implemented from 1 January 2004? Will it be similar to the changeover to the euro, where both currencies could be used side by side for an initial period? Is the 1 January a suitable date for implementation? Will those who smoke on 31 December be expected to stop at midnight?
The Minister of State said that the adverse impact of tobacco consumption on human health, globally and locally, is well documented. My grandmother died from lung cancer although she never smoked and I know of a lady in Carlow who was a heavy smoker but who lived to be 99 years of age. It has been suggested that smokers will be subjected to increased stress levels when they will be unable to smoke a cigarette with their drink. I do not believe this will happen because, if anything, smoking enhances stress.
Cigarette vending machines in pubs could become redundant, which is a cause of concern to those who have invested heavily in them. The Irish Taxi Drivers Federation made a recent submission regarding the hardship imposed on its members following deregulation. Similar hardship could be imposed on those involved in the supply of cigarette vending machines. The Minister of State should consider this aspect.
Is the Minister of State aware of the consequences in terms of lost revenue from the fall in cigarette sales? While it is agreed that cigarettes are bad for us, I am sure the Minister for Finance welcomes the revenue generated. That will be reduced because of the smoking ban in pubs.
Some workers involved in pubs have expressed serious concern about the proposed supervision process. If the owner of a pub is not present when a premises is raided, it is possible the staff on duty will be fined personally. That would leave many bar staff severely out of pocket as they do not earn much money in some cases. The benefit of the smoking ban will be clear in 20 or 30 years in terms of health savings. While I welcome the ban as an ordinary consumer, I have posed to the Minister of State questions which have been posed to me. I would appreciate clarification by him of the issues for all concerned.
I welcome the Labour Party motion. It is useful to have a pre-legislative debate on matters such as this as the introduction of measures sometimes has undesirable effects. The extension of licensing hours has, for example, led to many public order problems. At the same time we must avoid showing too much puritanical zeal as there is a balance to be struck between the freedom to do things and freedom from harmful activities.
There has been much progress, which I welcome, in the 20 years since the first tobacco control legislation was introduced by Charles Haughey. The second Act was introduced by Barry Desmond in 1985 and other measures have been enacted since. I agree with Senator O'Meara that a crowded, smoky pub is a deterrent to many and it is not necessarily the case that the bar trade will suffer. Equally, the ideas brought forward by Senator Bohan and a Deputy from my constituency may be valid. If there is a means of providing segregated and confined areas for smokers, I will defend the right of people to bring that idea forward and have it considered and debated. It may be that it would not work, however. I have written to the Minister. Smoking is banned on buses and aircraft and there is a strong case to be made for banning it on trains. A train is a very confined space and if one sits in a smoking carriage due to the unavailability of a seat elsewhere, one will emerge reeking of smoke.
The Minister of State omitted that in the armoury of Government is the ability to introduce regular and large tax increases. As a member of the tax strategy group, I was fully behind this. The level of alcohol consumption is a danger to health and I fear to think what problems will emerge, particularly among the younger generation, in ten or 20 years. Health education would do much if it were pursued more actively. I gather that in America pubs employ bouncers who check identity cards. There is something to be said for introducing such a measure in some of the more busy pubs here.
I appreciate the opportunity to share Senator Mansergh's time. I will not take up the time of the House. I record my total support for the Government's position. We have seen the Government climb down in the face of pressure groups, particularly in the building trade, and I do not blame it for this. It was overwhelmed by the building lobby and, appallingly, had to pull back on the question of planning permissions. More and more of that sort of pressure is being brought to bear and is currently a major issue. The Government should be aware that it has widespread support with regard to tobacco restrictions.
Given that the Minister of State said he saw very little difference between the motion of the Labour Party and the Government's amendment, it is a pity he did not demonstrate a sense of solidarity by supporting the original motion.
Somebody should explain to Government that imagery is important. It could have sent an extraordinarily strong message by supporting the Labour Party tonight. All-party consensus on a hugely important issue would have been demonstrated. Speaking as a former spokesman, I do not object to people smoking but this measure has to be put in place in relation to public places. I support fully the measure and request that members of the Cabinet support the Minister for Health and Children in this regard if it is not too much to ask.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Cabinet supports the Minister on all issues.
It is particularly good to have had a full two hour debate. I thought at one stage that we would not but it has been shown that Members take this issue very seriously.
I wish to quote from the executive summary of the Health and Safety Authority on tobacco control. It concludes that environmental tobacco smoke is carcinogenic and causes lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems in adults. It finds that current ventilation technology is ineffective in removing the risks of environmental tobacco smoke to health. In the body of its review the HSA states that even with reductions from ventilation, exposure levels remain between 1,500 and 2,500 times what is safe. That statistic should answer people's questions about ventilation. It cannot work. When people's health is manifestly at risk, cost cannot be a concern. It is the health of those who work in pubs and those who frequent them that is of concern, which is the reason there can be no rolling back on this issue. The conclusion of the HSA and every other authority I have read is that it is impossible to create a healthy social or work environment in the presence of incessant tobacco smoking. The only arguments against this point of view come from vested interests and lobby groups and should be rejected.
It is a tragedy that in four minutes there will be a division about something on which we all agree. The only objection the Government could possibly have to our motion is our request for an "immediate" ban on smoking in licensed premises. I would withdraw the word "immediate" from the motion with the permission of the Chair as there is a technical question in terms of the possibility of introducing a ban without further legislation. I would be happy to do so to establish consensus.
I will address some of the arguments which have been made. Regarding the "subordinate clause", a good lawyer like the Minister of State should see that it is not a requirement for any immediate action.
Tourism is New York's second largest industry and surviving a ban which will in the short term give rise to a problem. Somebody said the Luxembourgers drink more than we do. They may but one will not find the scenes of appalling disorder on the streets of Luxembourg on a Saturday night that one finds here. It is our form of drinking that is becoming a problem. We will have to deal with this.
The Minister of State mentioned the wonderful progress made in terms of students. While there has been progress, I have an anecdote which demonstrates that we have a long way to go. There is a pub in Cork located quite close to one of the third level institutions. A friend of mine and his partner entered the pub and the man ordered a pint and his wife asked for a non-alcoholic beer. The response of the barman was to explain that as it was a student pub, nothing like that was sold there. While it does not prove anything, that is as good an anecdote as is needed to illustrate the problems we have with alcohol.
I am intrigued by the fact that only in County Mayo are there significant numbers of publicans who serve people who are under age. Only in that county have there been a significant number of closures of licensed premises for selling drink to those under age. The alternative explanation that the Garda is not enforcing the law elsewhere cannot really be offered. According to the Minister's statistics, only in County Mayo has there been a significant number of pub closures. It is a very formidable and serious sanction which should be in use in all our cities and towns to make the point we need to make over and over again.
I am always intrigued by the way in which we are far more inclined to be prescriptive and puritanical about alcohol than about tobacco. Tobacco has killed 250,000 people in this country in the past 50 years, which is an incredible number. We are all prepared to be really puritanical about alcohol because there is a little bit of pleasure involved, but tobacco is seen as self-torture or something similar and, therefore, less worthy of attention. Tobacco kills people to no purpose. Alcohol, used in reasonable quantities, not only does not kill people but it enhances life. This is a fundamental difference, but we are far more willing to be prescriptive about alcohol than tobacco. This fundamental issue has to be addressed by the Oireachtas.
People are entitled to smoke, but it escapes me why they should be more entitled to do so than to consume cannabis. However, that is the law of the land. People are entitled to smoke but not entitled to impose their smoke on anybody who works with them or who shares, involuntarily, any space with them. That is the fundamental issue.
I have a number of suggestions. People who are picked up on the street and brought to a hospital accident and emergency unit because they are drunk should pay the full cost of the ambulance and hospital services provided to them. The money should be taken from their wages or whatever other source of income they possess. If they are students, let them pay the bill after they leave college. We have a duty to protect people from doing harm to themselves, not to pay for that protection, and, therefore, they should be required to pay.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of Niall Crowley, I suggest that we reconsider the equality legislation and the age limit of 18 years. As Senator McCarthy said, there is a good case to be made for restricting alcohol to people between 18 and 21 years of age. There is a particularly good case to allow publicans to choose to have an age limit above 18. We should look at whether that is the intention of the Oireachtas when we pass the legislation.
I can see only two references. I would like to withdraw the reference to "immediate" in the phrase, "demands that the Minister for Health and Children implement an immediate ban on smoking in licensed premises". There is a second reference to "immediate" later on, but that does not make any difference.