Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages
I may be out of order and, if I am, I ask the Acting Chairman to indulge a freshman Senator ill-informed with the standard operating procedures. I take this opportunity to raise with the Minister of State a matter with respect to the Bill which through my own inattention I should have raised at an earlier stage in the proceedings. I call on the Government, while it is still possible, to consider including a further amendment to the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill. The amendment could specifically ban cigarette smoking in vehicles where a child is present.
At this stage, we have all bought into the logic of the original Bill. It was considered revolutionary at the time and it was forward-thinking on the part of the then Minister, Deputy Martin. The logic was to ban smoking in enclosed workplaces. This included smoking in a car if it was a company car, even if it was on one's own car. This made a great deal of sense. As a result of what I do for a living I have met many people who drive for a living. They have remarked how strange it is that they could be prohibited from smoking in their own company car but it makes a great deal of sense.
It is the commonplace experience of every citizen who drives through the city and who gets stuck in a line of traffic to see children strapped into car seats in an enclosed car with one or more adults smoking in that car. If this is not already illegal the Bill should be amended to make it so. There is a neat provision which could be amended. There is a section in which the Minister has the right to prevent smoking in several places including places of work, health facilities and Government offices. I propose a simple amendment: to add a sub-section to forbid smoking where children are present in a vehicle. In addition, although it would be harder to enforce, it may be possible to consider making it illegal to smoke in any room where a child is present, including a room in one's own house. They could be a test case to establish it. The ultimate logic is not to expose minors who cannot make their own decisions with regard to smoke and that they should not be exposed to smoke being produced by other smokers until they have legal adulthood.
I understand and acknowledge that but I wish to take the opportunity to get the message to the Minister. The Minister of State and the Dáil still have the opportunity to make amendments and I call on the Minister of State to bring this to the Minister's attention.
This could be an important amendment and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for indulging me in raising the matter somewhat out of order. Section 47 of the original Bill deals with the prohibition or restriction on smoking of tobacco products. The Minister may by regulation prohibit or restrict the smoking of tobacco products in certain cases. I believe the Minister could include a section 47(1)(h) following section 47(1)(g) which could specifically forbid smoking in vehicles. Then, if the Minister so wished, he could consider a section 47(1)(i) to prohibit smoking in any enclosed room in which children are present.
The Bill was introduced initially last year by the previous Administration. Compliments were paid on Second Stage to the Minister and the Government for reintroducing the Bill. Many of the statistics the Minister and other contributors made are relevant. In the context of section one and these proposals it is important to put on the record the latest World Health Organization report on the global tobacco epidemic. The report was issued in the past two days and gives the stark figure that more than 1 billion people in 19 countries are now covered by laws requiring large graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco, almost double the number of two years ago. I cannot help but reflect on this.
I realise I am crowing from our side but I believe I should add my voice in acknowledgement and recognition of the initiative taken by Deputy Micheál Martin when he was Minister for Health and Children to introduced the legislation. The Leas-Chathaoirleach will correct me if I am wrong but I believe Ireland was the first country to introduce smoke-free places. The initiative has been in place for many years and I note that since it was introduced more than 739 million people in 31 countries have been covered by comprehensive laws requiring smoke-free indoor spaces. More than 353 million people are covered in 15 countries. Thailand is among the latest countries to ban smoking in indoor public places and in the workplace. I am keen to highlight these facts. Deputy Micheál Martin was much maligned for many things during his tenure in the Department of Health and Children, but that will stand as a shining legacy of his time there.
The World Health Organization tobacco free initiative director, Dr. Douglas Bettcher, stated that large graphic health warnings of the sort pioneered by Uruguay, Canada and a handful of other countries are an effective means of reducing tobacco's appeal and Ireland will now be a part of it. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on this. He goes on to say that Australia's proposed legislation to require that tobacco be sold in plain packaging will do even more to ensure that fewer people fall into the trap of sickness and premature death, and that the World Health Organization, WHO, stands ready to help countries to resist the tobacco industry's unprincipled attempts to eliminate these important protections. I share the view of the WHO that one is dealing with very devious, manipulative people in the tobacco industry. Several films have been made about this. One of them, whose title escapes me, received a worldwide release and depicts the cynicism of the tobacco industry, particularly from an American perspective.
Requiring large graphic health warnings is among the six demand reduction measures recommended by the WHO. Interestingly, in the context of Senator Crown's contribution, the other measures are: monitoring tobacco use; protecting people from tobacco smoke; helping users quit; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; raising taxes on tobacco. Of the six, the Minister will probably agree that this country has perhaps reached a tipping point in terms of the amount of tax it is possible to get from tobacco consumption, primarily because of the continuing threat to the Exchequer of the illegal importation of cigarettes. Perhaps the Minister has a view on that. I am sorry to throw so many questions at her and for my somewhat scattergun approach, but I am sure she will pick up on this point as it is important that we are given an insight into the Government's thinking on the widespread practice of illegal tobacco smuggling. Undoubtedly, it threatens the amount of money the Exchequer can collect from the consumption of tobacco and it has been an ongoing problem in recent years.
In the context of the six recommended measures, I share Senator Crown's concern that we protect people from tobacco smoke. It is a difficult issue but perhaps the Minister will focus on that recommendation and on what initiatives she might undertake in that regard. She has already told us she will be a reforming Minister so I urge her to be as reforming as possible. I am totally opposed to smoking in harmony with the old cliché that there is nobody more intolerant of smoking than a reformed smoker. I used to smoke. I started puffing fags at about ten years of age behind the school shed. I gave them up in my late twenties and, thank God, have not smoked since. However, one of our five offspring attended a boarding college for one year. He did not like it and left after his first year, but he said the only thing he learned there was how to smoke. He is 21 and is the only one of our family who smokes, despite our best efforts. I see the danger of passive smoking in our house. We try to get him to go outside the door but he goes into his den with his friends and the place is often clouded with smoke.
Both my personal experience and the statistics show the adverse impact of passive smoking on health. The WHO report states that the tobacco epidemic will kill nearly 6 million people this year. More than 5 million of them will be users and ex-users of smoked and smokeless tobacco and more than 600,000 will be non-smokers who were exposed to tobacco smoke. By 2030, the WHO projects that tobacco consumption or passive smoking could kill 8 million people per year, which is double the population of this country.
I thank the Minister for returning so quickly to the House to deal with this Bill. The issue I wish to raise is the photographs we have seen. One of them included the number of the quit line. Research has shown that where countries include the quit line number on every packet of cigarettes, the number of calls to the quit line number increased dramatically in the first 12 months afterwards. Obviously, if people are making the effort to ring the quit line, they are making the effort to give up smoking. Can we put the quit line number on every photograph? One photograph on the packaging is specifically designed for that but there is a total of 14 photographs. Does the Bill give the Minister the power to insert the number of the quit line? I believe so, but perhaps the Minister would clarify that. If the number of the quit line is included on the packet, people have immediate access to information. It is interesting to see from the research that a large number of young people want to give up smoking, but they probably need an extra push to help them to do so. If they have immediate access to the quit line, they are more likely to do it.
I hope the Leas-Chathaoirleach will indulge me. I will try to speak to the section but I wish to make a number of broad points because I missed the debate on Second Stage. The points are broadly in line with the section.
I have never smoked and have always found smoking offensive and anti-social. However, I know many young people who smoke. The figures show, unfortunately, that more young people are smoking. It is a tragedy. We have also seen the impact of smoking on older people. Some of my relatives have acquired illnesses as a result of smoking for many years. It is awful to see something self-inflicted cause so much misery for those individuals. It also puts enormous strain on our health services. I do not believe we can put a price on how much goes into ensuring that people get proper treatment after the effects of smoking. It is a huge issue that must be tackled.
It says a great deal that amendments have not been tabled on this legislation. There is cross-party support in this Chamber and, I hope, in the Dáil for what the Minister is trying to do. The Bill gives us an opportunity to address some of the issues surrounding smoking. Earlier, a Member raised the issue of revenue and whether there is scope for further increases in the price of tobacco and cigarettes here. Both Action on Smoking and Health, ASH, and the World Health Organization have recommended fiscal measures relating to the price as one of the most effective ways to combat smoking. Some raise the red herring of illegal tobacco smuggling. That is a major issue that must be tackled. Criminal bosses here are making huge amounts of money from smuggling cigarettes that are more harmful than the cigarettes one buys over the counter. However, it is not a reason for not doing the right thing in terms of considering the most appropriate response to steer somebody away from cigarettes.
I have worked for many years on the problem of drugs and am an active member of a community based drugs initiative in Waterford. One of the things I quickly learned about other drugs, be it alcohol, cocaine or anything else, is that if one tells somebody that the drug is bad for them, whether it is through graphics or advertisements, it will not, in itself, steer the person away from cigarettes or drugs. Anybody who works in this area will agree with that. If the message or strategy is to try through shock tactics to get somebody to stop doing something that is harmful to them, it will not work. The World Health Organization has repeatedly pointed out that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to deal with this issue.
I commend the Minister for bringing her proposals forward. Whatever steps are taken to reduce tobacco consumption here are welcome. I hope the proposals will have an impact. Education is hugely important but in the forthcoming budget there will be an opportunity for the Minister for Finance to reflect on what potential might exist to increase prices. Senator Walsh said we might have exhausted that opportunity but I am not sure that we have. We should listen to the experts in this area and I ask the Minister to convey that to the Minister for Finance. If that measure is one of the most effective ways of dealing with this issue, we should take that corrective action and play our part in making sure that fewer people here smoke and fewer people are damaged and suffer ill-health as a consequence of smoking.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House again today. I spoke at length during the debate last Thursday on the reasons I propose to support this Bill, which Members have agreed has cross-party support. I do not intend to repeat myself, rather I would like to refer, as did Senator Mooney, to the report from the World Health Organization, which coincidentally was published last Thursday on the same day we spoke on it here. That report highly recommends the use of graphic descriptions. As Members said and as I said last week, a picture speaks a thousand words. We all know how effective the photographs have been in the road safety ads on television.
This report is the third in a series of WHO reports on the status of global tobacco control policy implementation. It examines in detail the two primary strategies to provide health warnings - the labels on the tobacco product packaging and the anti-tobacco mass media campaigns. It is an excellent report which provides a comprehensive overview of the evidence base for warning people about the harms of tobacco use as well as country specific information on the status of these measures.
The report indicates that more than 1 billion people in 19 countries are now covered by the laws requiring large graphic health warnings on packages, nearly double the number of two years ago when only about 547 million people were covered in 16 countries. The latest countries to add these warnings on packages are Mexico, Peru and the United States. These large graphic warnings have proven to motivate people to stop either using tobacco or to reduce the appeal for people to initiate smoking.
This year the tobacco epidemic will kill almost 6 million people, more than 5 million will be users and ex-users of smoking and smokeless tobacco and more than 600,000 will be non-smokers who were exposed to tobacco smoke. This brings me back to the point Senator Crown made about the number of people affected by passive smoking.
By 2030, tobacco could kill up to 8 million people a year. Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the non-communicable diseases epidemic, which includes heart disease, stroke, cancers and emphysema and accounts for 63% of all deaths. Of the world's more than 1 billion tobacco smokers, more than 80% live in low and middle income countries and up to half will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.
The WHO report recommends six measures, to which Senator Mooney referred, the first being the large graphic health warnings, which is exactly what we are proposing here and on what I am commenting. Other measures include: the importance of monitoring tobacco use; protecting people from tobacco smoke; helping the users to quit; reinforcing bans on tobacco, advertising, promoting and sponsorship; and raising the taxes, which was another issue that was mentioned during the debate last Thursday.
More than half the world's population, or 3.8 billion people, are now covered by at least one of the above mentioned demand reduction measures. There have been gains in each area because of the effective action taken by countries in 2009 and 2010. The WHO report confirms that large graphic health warnings of the sort introduced by Uruguay, Canada and a handful of other countries are an effective means of reducing the appeal of tobacco.
Australia, as was mentioned, has proposed legislation to require that tobacco be sold in plain packaging in order to appear less tempting and which will also ensure that fewer people will fall into the trap of smoking. I read today that Iceland proposes to introduce legislation in the near future which will require a person to have a doctor's prescription to purchase cigarettes.
I am conflicted in regard to this legislation in that I am disappointed with it. I welcome the provisions of it but smoking is such a carcinogenic activity for anybody to engage in and many Senators have illustrated the number of people who are grievously affected by it. It is a huge imposition not only on people's health but also on their financial position and on the Exchequer at large because of the consequential health issues.
Only four weeks ago I attended the funeral of a good friend of mine, Paddy Quinn, who died from emphysema. He made a great contribution to New Ross through many different economic and tourism initiatives. The John F. Kennedy Trust, established the Dunbrody Famine Ship at New Ross, is a huge tourist attraction and has just been injected with €2.5 million from Fáilte Ireland to enhance it, and Paddy Quinn was a champion of that project. My mother died from a smoking-related disease, from lung cancer which spread to her brain.
Therefore, I believe this Bill comes directly from the school of lazy legislation. I know it was introduced last year and there have been many changes worldwide in the situation since then. This Bill reflects a minimalist approach to the issue. All we are doing is enacting Commission decisions which have been taken and which we are obliged to include in our legislation. That is a pity. The scope exists for doing more. I do not know from where Senator Cullinane got the notion that I thought there was no room for greater fiscal initiatives in this area. I believe there is scope for that. We are dealing with an industry, the tobacco industry, which is fundamentally corrupt. It has had substantial evidence for many decades, which it suppressed, on the effects of smoking and the health risks people take when they smoke.
If one travels abroad, particularly to undeveloped countries or emerging democracies where income levels are quite poor, one will observe that the industry targets disadvantaged people to get them addicted to smoking. It includes not only arsenic but many dangerous chemicals in compiling the product, which are highly addictive. It is done for one reason and one reason only, commercial purposes, with total disregard for any ethical or other human obligations which the companies should have if they were responsible corporations which they are not.
My criticism of the legislation is on foot of a further recent initiative in this respect was taken by the Australian Government. We were the first country to ban smoking in the workplace, which was done in the face of considerable opposition not only from the industry but elsewhere. I remember heated parliamentary party meetings in our own party where people were totally against it. I thought Deputy Micheál Martin, who was Minister for Health at the time, showed a great deal of courage and initiative in bringing in the ban. I want to see the same courage and commitment reflected now in the political leadership of the Department of Health. There is no reason we could not have gone the road that Australia has gone and prohibited the manufacturers from putting their names on the packets of cigarettes. That would have been a step in the direction which would have led to a further decline, particularly in smoking and in the different brands of tobacco products, but we failed to do that. I understand that the Philip Morris tobacco company is proceeding to take legal action in Australia as a consequence of the Australian initiative but we need to be strong, courageous and tough enough to withstand that. People are dying in Ireland today and more will die tomorrow, Thursday and on Friday from diseases caused by smoking. We have an obligation to tackle this issue in an effective way and to go as far as we possibly can to try to eradicate it.
As a parent I take a little pride in an achievement in this area. Unlike Senator Mooney, I did not smoke, so I am not a reformed smoker. My wife and I were so anti-smoking that we inculcated that into our children and none of them smoked. If we never did anything else for them, we did them a great service by getting them to that state. We need to encourage that kind of thing, but we need more initiatives than purely transferring EU Commission decisions into legislation. I am seeking greater innovation in the future. I realise the Minister of State is not in the position for very long, but I ask her to apply her mind to this. It goes to the heart of our responsibility as legislators to the public and to their healthy well being.
I did not have a chance to make a speech on Second Stage, but I will have to avoid making a Second Stage today. It has been very interesting to hear what others have said. I compliment the Minister of State, and although Senator Walsh said she has not gone far enough, she has taken the first step and to do so in such a short time is worthy of consideration. I am not in favour of a price increase because it encourages smuggling. We probably have the highest prices in Europe at the moment and smuggling is a huge problem. I am impressed at the steps the Minister of State is taking, and I believe it is possible to achieve far more in the future.
I was at a grocery meeting a couple of weeks ago on the Continent, and the man from Malta congratulated me. He said that in Malta they have followed Ireland in a different way, and removed plastic bags from check outs in supermarkets. He said they also followed us with anti-smoking legislation. We were the first country to do something about it, and the Maltese are very proud that they have also managed to reduce the level of smoking there.
It was interesting to hear about how we will convince people. Like Senator Walsh, my wife and I do not smoke, but we had smokers in other sides of the family, and deaths there as well. We are impressed that our five children do not smoke, mainly because the eldest child saw something on television at age 13, and became so bitterly anti-smoking that he influenced the rest of the family. This did not come from us as parents, but from a young man who was influenced by something he saw on television.
I was not here when Senator Crown spoke, but I believe his suggestion that smoking should be banned in cars if there are children present did not manage to make it to the list of amendments on time. I am not sure if anything can be done about that, but to make it an offence to smoke in a car when there are children present is something worthy of consideration. I am not sure how we will do it, but if there is some way of making sure that this happens, it is worthwhile.
Senator Crown came to two meetings we held in Leinster House 2000, and on one of those occasions, he said that sometimes he worries about his future as a cancer specialist, but that every time he sees Members smoking outside the barrier, he knows his future is secure. They will still need him in the future. It is a reminder to those who smoke and if we can manage to get that message across, the steps taken by the Minister of State will help. There is an onus on us as legislators to do all we can to protect ourselves from the danger of cancer that comes from smoking, especially lung cancer. I encourage the Minister of State, I wish her well and I believe the steps she has taken are in the right direction.
I thank Members for contributing to the debate and for their support for the passage of this Bill. We are all at one on this. Everybody realises the huge difficulties caused by smoking, that smoking poses a very significant public health threat, that smoking is the main cause of preventative premature death, and that it puts a huge strain on the health service. For that reason, we all have an obligation to ensure that we do everything we can to reduce the prevalence of smoking in our society.
A number of these points came up on Second Stage. In fairness, much work has been done in recent years. The 2009 Bill was very welcome and very wide ranging. I salute my predecessors who were very active in this area. We now have a ban on the display of smoking, a prohibition on vending machines in most locations, a ban on the sale of cigarettes to minors and the strict enforcement of that by environmental health officers. As Senator Quinn pointed out, we have the highest price for cigarettes in Europe. There is a commitment to look at this again in the upcoming budget. The Minister for Health has already signalled his preparedness to examine the possibility of increasing the price further. There are severe restrictions on advertising. Health promotion is very well resourced. More needs to be done in all these areas, but much work is under way in smoking cessation programmes and support and advice for people who are keen to give up. Members have referred to the courageous Bill that banned smoking in the work place, which has been very successful.
When it comes to tackling the threat posed by smoking, Ireland is very much to the fore. The ban on smoking in the work place was ground breaking and we led the rest of Europe in this area. As we are to the fore in tackling the problem, the tobacco industry has targeted Ireland and has taken several legal cases that are currently under way. The industry sees us as posing a threat to its business.
It is important to recognise the valuable work done to date, but we need to go further. In spite of all the measures taken, the prevalence rate has remained high, at around 29% for several years. We like to think that societal attitudes have changed, that our generation now sees the folly in smoking - many of us here, including me, are ex-smokers - and hope that our children will not repeat our mistakes, but the reality is that young people are still smoking in very large numbers, especially young girls. There is no room for complacency in this area.
I know concerns were raised that we are not going far enough with this Bill. This is a technical amendment to earlier legislation. It is necessary to ensure that the Minister has sufficient statutory powers to introduce combined text and pictorial warnings on tobacco products by way of regulations. Section 6 of the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Act 2009 empowered the Minister to make these regulations to introduce such combined text and pictorial warnings on tobacco products. However, while work was under way to finalise the arrangements for this, the Office of the Attorney General advised last January that there was a lacuna in section 6 of the 2009 Act. As a consequence, there is a concern that section 6 does not adequately empower the Minister to make the necessary regulations. The Office of the Attorney General further advised that an amendment to section 6 would be required to ensure that the Minister's vires to make regulations is unimpeachable. As we have been to the fore in this we must be absolutely certain of our legal grounds. If there is room for any doubt, a case will be taken. That is why the Attorney General has told us there is a need to amend the 2009 Act, and she is not convinced sufficient powers exist. That is why we are discussing this legislation.
The enabling section, as it stands, is limited because it only refers to article 5, which deals with the labelling requirements of the 2001/37/EC directive. Specifically, it concerns the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products. There is also the 2003 Commission decision on the use of colour photographs or other illustrations for each of the additional warnings listed in annex 1 of the directive.
The subsequent decision in 2005, which provided the library of picture warnings and a technical specification, and the amending decision in 2006 to allow manufacturers to modify warnings for awkward package sizes and shapes, were omitted from the 2009 Act. In a determination to get this absolutely right in order that it cannot be challenged, the Attorney General has advised on this amending legislation. It is very specific enabling legislation and following from the passage of this Bill into law, the Minister will be able to make the necessary regulations, which we want to do as quickly as possible.
This is not intended as any kind of panacea but it is specific amending legislation. In that regard I will respond to Senator Crown's points about going further and banning smoking in cars. There is no doubt that smoking in cars exposes occupants to very harmful environmental tobacco smoke, ETS. This is a carcinogen and contains the same cancer-causing substances and toxic agents as are inhaled by a smoker, so there is no safe level of exposure to ETS. Exposure to cigarette smoke is particularly dangerous in enclosed spaces such as cars. Parents and others with responsibility for the welfare of children have a particular responsibility to ensure such exposure does not take place.
I concur very much with the points made by Senator Crown and others regarding the need to move on this front. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has signalled that he would be in favour of legislating to prohibit smoking in cars but would like to see a public information and education campaign to highlight the dangers associated with exposure to ETS in cars and to raise public awareness in advance of the introduction of this legislation. That is the same kind of approach taken in respect of the legislation that Deputy Martin introduced as Minister relating to smoking in the work place. We should create that kind of public awareness and carry out the advertising campaigns before formulating the legislation.
The Bill before the House for approval today is necessarily specific to the matter in hand of the introduction of combined photo and text warnings on tobacco products, and its passage into law will provide the Minister with the required vires to regulate and make combined warnings obligatory on all tobacco products as soon as possible. The Bill is an enabling Bill and does not provide a suitable basis for the inclusion of the broader tobacco control measures which Members wish to see. The Minister and I wish to see these also. I assure the House that those matters will be addressed.
A few other points were made during the debate. We spoke about illicit trade on Second Stage, and the industry has suggested this represents approximately 24% of the cigarettes currently in Ireland. I take the point made by Senator Quinn regarding price. A delicate balance must be struck. There is a significant problem and the authorities have suggested that approximately 20% of cigarettes smoked in the country are illegal. It is the responsibility of the Revenue Commissioners to enforce the law in this regard and a wide number of actions are being taken by the Revenue Commissioners and Customs and Excise in that regard.
For example, between 2008 and 2010, Customs and Excise service seized a total of 532 million cigarettes with an estimated retail value of €222 million, representing just over 30,000 individual seizures. Much work has been ongoing at the ports and airports but many cigarettes are still coming in illegally, so the work must be stepped up. In addition, large quantities of cigarettes are imported legally as the current allowance is very generous.
Yes, and to some extent the free market rules at EU level and the requirements of the Single Market take precedence over health concerns in respect of a number of different products. I will consider the area and possible restriction of the numbers which can be brought in. There is much anecdotal evidence of people arriving from parts of Europe, and eastern Europe in particular, with bags of cigarettes for sale locally in estates. We could take some action on that.
Senator Burke raised the idea of the quit line number and the desirability of putting that number on the bottom of the warning. That does not require primary legislation and it would arise in the context of regulations. A balance must be struck as we are restricted with the amount of space that can be used for the warning. We try to select the images that are the most graphic and would have the greatest impact. As well as pictures, there is text and we are also required to have the text displayed bilingually. The amount of space for the graphic image is limited and it would be a judgment call whether to include the quit line number on the pack as well. To some extent, more is less if we are trying to gain a big impact from the pictorial images. I will bear the idea in mind when the regulations are being drawn up. I am conscious of the point made on the success of such an exercise elsewhere.
My immediate priority is to introduce the legislation before the House today, which will allow the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to make the regulations we want to see. The introduction of plain packaging will be considered by the tobacco policy review group, which is expected to report shortly. I stress that this is not the only initiative being taken at this point and is just specific amending legislation to allow us introduce pictorial images. With regard to plain packaging, I am aware that Australia's proposal to introduce such legislation is being challenged by the tobacco industry. The outcome of that legislation and the forthcoming revision of the EU tobacco products directive will inform policy in the area. I am certainly very open to the idea that we move to plain packaging because it seems to be a factor in glamour and identification of different brands. I thank Members for their contribution to the debate and their support.
I understand that but I have a brief question. I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply and for reassuring the House that there will be more comprehensive anti-smoking legislation. I hope that will be advanced very quickly. I suggest the tobacco review committee would address the issue mentioned with regard to the constant use of smoking. Following the introduction of the smoking ban, there was a reduction nationally to approximately 22% or 23% but tobacco companies appear quite content because usage has again increased to 29% or 30%, despite the best efforts of successive Administrations and independent organisations and their health promotions.
There seems to be a focus on younger people, and part of the reason for this is their tendency to travel more. I am pleased to hear the scandalous allowances between countries will be addressed. We are debating legislation dealing with an EU directive that followed a great deal of debate at Commission level but the same institutions have fostered high allowances between countries. I suggest there is a need to analyse why the figures have gone back up. Why is the younger cohort more amenable to the blandishments of the tobacco industry? I cannot figure out why that is happening in spite of all the restrictions that have been put in place. I am sure the Minister of State cannot figure it out either. We are not going to be able to do it here. I suggest that it be done in the Department.
It is rather unfortunate that my friend and colleague, Senator Moran, did not swap notes with me prior to our respective contributions. When future historians look at this debate, they will find that Senator Moran followed everything I said. Everything she said was a replication. It is rather unfortunate in the circumstances but that is just the way things are.
I wish to make four points. I am heartened by some of what the Minister of State has said. We need to fight this as vigorously and intensely as we can. I welcome her intention to consider the possibility of introducing legislation to ban smoking in cars. I have always felt that should be done. Although I do not normally believe in intruding into people's personal lives when they are at home, I think we should consider banning smoking in the home when children are present. Everybody recognises the dangers of secondary smoking. The measure I have suggested would be controversial, but it should be examined. Responsible parents go outside to smoke if there are children in the house.
The second issue I would like to discuss is the price of cigarettes. I do not accept the argument that is made with regard to illicit sales. It is a matter for the Garda to enforce the law. We need to be much more vigorous in that regard. The problem of illicit sales should not deter us from increasing the price of cigarettes.
I am pleased the Minister of State said she intends to analyse the Australian model of removing the name of tobacco companies from cigarette packets. She mentioned that the size of the packets might make it difficult to accommodate pictorial images. Can she clarify whether the images will be on both sides of cigarette packets? As this is a Seanad Bill, the Minister of State can amend it in the Dáil on the basis of the debate in this House. While we are awaiting the outcome of the case Philip Morris has taken against the Australian Government, perhaps we could provide that the name of the manufacturer should be as tiny as possible on the cigarette packet. That would give us more scope. At least we would be starting to introduce the concept of providing for very little recognition of the branding of the packet. That is an important consideration.
I will conclude by suggesting that the Minister of State should consider tabling an amendment to the Bill in the Dáil. I suggest that large posters, replicating the graphic images that will have to be included on cigarette packets, should have to be displayed on the outside of premises where cigarettes are sold. In other words, retailers who sell cigarettes should be required by law to display graphic images, which convey the message of the consequences of smoking, on the exterior of their premises. It might be a deterrent. I ask the Minister of State to consider that proposal. We need to do everything we can to reduce, if not eradicate, the habit of smoking.
This Bill is welcome. We have a problem in this country. The current smoking rate is approximately 29%. Although we were not talking about smoking this morning, I mentioned an EU study that was published yesterday which reported that 16% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 have used substances that are available on the market to give them illegal highs and that 32% of young people have accessed ecstasy without any difficulty. Those figures remind us of the need for education about the misuse of drugs and the health issues associated with smoking. We should set clear targets as we set out on this long road over the next five years. It will not be easy to solve the problems in this difficult area. This Bill is timely. The Office of the Attorney General was right to advise the Department to ensure all angles are covered. The Minister of State and her officials in the Department are to be thanked for responding so quickly to that advice.
Senator Burke mentioned the report on illegal highs that was published yesterday. We face huge challenges because we are leading Europe in this regard. Some 16% of young people here have used these substances. That is way ahead of the next country, which is on 9% or something like that. Perhaps we were not quick enough in dealing with the head shops. I would like to think the action that has been taken will stop the trend that had been developing. There is a need for a Europe-wide response to this Europe-wide problem. People are increasingly gaining access to illegal products on the Internet. I would like to look at this area. We have been reasonably successful in stopping people from using credit cards to access pornography on the Internet. I would like us to investigate the potential for clamping down on the purchase of illegal highs and prescription medication, which is another problem. We are considering how we might tackle that on a Europe-wide basis. The use of the Internet means it cannot be done in this country alone. We face a number of challenges as we try to protect the health of young people. We need to encourage them to play an active role in protecting their own good health. There is a serious body of work to be done in the health promotion area. I thank Members again for their contributions.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, for coming to the House so quickly. I also thank her officials in the Department of Health and the officials in the Office of the Attorney General. When advice of this nature is provided, it is extremely important that it be acted on in an expeditious manner. That has certainly happened in this case. I compliment everyone involved. I wish the Minister of State well in her future dealings in this area. As she has said, further legislation will be introduced. My colleagues in Fine Gael and in the other groups look forward to working with her to consider further legislation in this area. We want to set clear targets with the aim of reducing the proportion of people who smoke from the current level of 29%. We hope that by the time our term ends, some work will have been done and some targets will have been achieved. I thank the Minister of State again.
I endorse everything Senator Burke has said. I am particularly pleased that the legal minds of the former Attorney General and the current Attorney General were united on this issue. The Minister of State will have gathered from the debate that she can be assured there will be a unity of minds in this House when any further legislation is introduced in this area. I hope she will take on board the statistic that was mentioned with regard to the high incidence of young smokers in this country. Perhaps this area can be analysed in the context of the introduction of any comprehensive legislation. Senators on this side of the House are very pleased to have supported this Bill. We wish the Minister of State well in all her areas of responsibility. As she said, this is a particularly challenging area.