Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

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

 

4:00 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister to the House. I extend my gratitude to my colleagues across the House for their support in allowing this Bill get to this Stage today. I thank also my fellow Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Mark Daly who joined me in advancing this Bill and were extremely important in getting it to this Stage.

The Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012 is a simple amendment to the existing smoking legislation which would extend the current prohibition on smoking in the workplace to smoking in any mechanically-propelled vehicle in which children under the age of 18 are travelling. With the benefit of ten years of analysis we believe the original legislation was visionary and world changing because it established Ireland as a leading country in the international fight against the scourge of tobacco-related diseases.

The background is well known to us all, and especially to the Minister who spoke eloquently in the broadcast media in recent weeks about issues related to tobacco smoke. As we are all aware, smoking is the principal cause of lung cancer. Lung cancer is a rare disease in those who have not smoked. It is the major cause of cancers of the head and neck. It is a significant contributor to a number of other cancers, prominently, cancer of the pancreas, the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract. It is perhaps the principal cause of premature cardiovascular disease including sudden death, heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, which might be fatal or life-threatening in terms of the disability they cause.

It is beyond controversy at this stage and generally accepted in the medical, scientific and epidemiological communities that there are substantial health risks associated with passive smoke, second-hand smoke, side-stream smoke or, more generally, environmental tobacco smoke which is endured by non-smokers.

We are certain that smoking contributes to an increased incidence of asthma and bronchitis, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has firmly stated that the data conclusively show that systematic exposure to second-hand smoke among lifelong non-smokers is a substantial contributory cause to the occurrence of lung cancer. As a result, many international bodies have now come out and made statements firmly against second-hand smoke in favour of measures to restrict the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand smoke. These bodies include the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the US Surgeon General and the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute in the United States.

Children face particular additional risks associated with passive smoke as they breathe more rapidly than adults and, therefore, take more breaths per minute. As a result, they have a greater level of internal exposure to any environmental toxin in the air they breathe. Furthermore, owing to their small size and the efficiency with which gas exchange occurs in their lungs, they have a higher level of tissue exposure per molecule of poisonous chemical in the atmosphere than adults. It is beyond doubt that children who are exposed to second-hand smoke run additional risks, especially in the areas of infection, bronchitis, asthma and, very worryingly, meningitis, which is often a sequel of other respiratory infections. Sadly, there is conclusive evidence that sudden infant death syndrome is more common in infants who are exposed to second-hand smoke. In addition, the British Medical Association has stated its belief, following an analysis of the data, that the incidence of childhood cancers, by which I mean not only respiratory cancers but those cancers which, sadly, occur in children, including brain tumours and lymphoma, are more common in children who are exposed environmentally to second-hand smoke. There is also some data to show that children who have early childhood exposure may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer in later life.

The car is a particularly hazardous environment and it is obvious its small confines increase risk to the exposure to smoke. Some of the numbers are startling. Within one minute of a cigarette being lit in an enclosed car, the occupational concentration of dangerous particulates in smoke is 30 times higher than the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States advocates that people flee the streets and close the windows in their homes to escape environmental smoke. The exposure after one hour in a car with smokers is the same as that which a firefighter experiences in four to eight hours of fighting a brush fire. Tellingly, the emissions are five times higher from a cigarette smoked in the car than from the tail pipe of the car during the period in which the driving is taking place. One hour spent in a smoky car produces the same occupational exposure as eight hours in a smoky pub, which is, thankfully, something of which few people in this country have proximate memories.

The next question is whether the problem of smoking in cars exists. Smokers and their advocacy groups argue that responsible parents who smoke will not smoke in cars with children present and the legislation is, therefore, unnecessary. I acknowledge that many smoking parents show a degree of responsibility in not smoking in cars with their children. I wish they would show a higher level of responsibility and give up smoking because they are exposing their children to smoke in other environments and running the real risk of leaving them orphaned. The responsible decision for a parent who smokes is to stop smoking.

The problem of smoking in cars with children exists. We have all seen people stuck in lines of traffic or car parks reaching for and lighting up a cigarette in a car in which children are present. Members have had considerable contact and received many messages in their offices from concerned citizens. The overwhelming majority of them are supportive of this proposed legislation. The small minority who oppose the Bill are overwhelmingly smokers who, when asked, admit they smoke in the car with children present. It is essential we pass this Bill, which is not a civil liberties issue but an issue concerning the rights of the child. No one has a right to expose a child to cigarette smoke.

In terms of liability the Bill specifies where the liability lies for the act of smoking in a car with children. As a result of the minor amendment, it will extend the list of specified places in the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 to include "a mechanically propelled vehicle in which a person under the age of 18 is present". Section 47(1) of the Act lists a number of locations where it is an offence to smoke. Any person who smokes in such prescribed places is breaking the law. Under subsection (3), the liability extends to the person who is in charge of the enclosed space in question, in this case, the driver of the car. In addition, the Garda is given the power to enforce the law.

This brings me to the issue of enforcement because it has been argued that the law, while laudable in its goals, is fundamentally unenforceable. That is an error. In the first instance, the primary benefit of the legislation is not that we will create a crime against which enforcement will ensue, although the legislation will be enforced, but an educational one because a message will be sent out that, having considered all the evidence, a group of experts as well as the Minister, Department and legislators, is supportive of a ban on this activity because it is so dangerous and exposes children to risk. The next time someone thinks about lighting a cigarette or cigar in a car with children present, he or she will be aware this argument has been made. There will also be moral pressure from those who witness the lighting up taking place and the real moral pressure, of which all parents are aware, that is exerted by children who, in many cases, will not be slow to let their parents know they are doing something which is risky to children and against the law. Even if these moral strictures and educational incentives do not work, there is in the legislation provision for specific enforcement by the Garda, with a ministerial right to set a fine.

This Bill is not wholly unprecedented. Cyprus, for example, has already banned smoking in cars with children present and various jurisdictions across North America have enacted such bans. Many more jurisdictions are in the process of enacting similar prohibitions. It is interesting in this election year in the US that two of the four states to ban smoking in cars with children, namely, Arkansas and Louisiana, are red states that are likely to support Governor Romney for President, while the other two are blue states, namely, California and Maine, which are likely to support President Obama. This is not a civil liberties or left versus right issue but a health issue that extends across the spectrum of public opinion. Whatever one's attitude to the role of government or the necessity for good public health legislation, it is apparent to smart legislators who examine the issue that we should take this measure. Several Canadian provinces, a number of Australian states and some other individual jurisdictions have come down on the side of introducing such legislation.

This brings me to the issue of timelines. I have been heartened to receive many messages of support for the legislation from across the political spectrum. The Minister, for instance, expressed his support and noted the necessity for such a ban in the broadcast media. I salute him and offer him my gratitude. It is important we move on this issue, set a date and engage properly with the departmental officials who will have an input into the subsequent Stages of the Bill. We need to implement the legislation quickly. We should set a goal of ensuring children who travel by car with parents or guardians on their summer holidays this year do so in a smoke-free environment.

I will mention a young boy of seven years from County Wexford, Fionn O'Callaghan, who is known to the Minister and me. When Fionn witnessed someone lighting a cigarette in a car with children present, he took it on himself to write to the Taoiseach asking him to use his good offices to introduce legislation to enforce a smoking ban where children are present in a car. My understanding is this rather forward and highly talented young man also doorstepped the Minister for Health during a visit he made to Wexford. I also understand several organisations which have the word "Ógra" in their title may well be approaching Fionn with a view to his future career development. When he spoke to parliamentarians at an information evening held in the audio-visual room last week, Fionn made the case more eloquently than any of us older adults could do and stated it was wrong that somebody like him should, in an involuntary fashion, be forced to be exposed to the smoke of an adult who is not responsible enough to protect him or her from it. It is incumbent on all Members and part of our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure the civil liberties and rights of our children to live, as far as possible, in an atmosphere that is protected from wholly preventable cancer and disease causing chemicals are vindicated. I thank Members for their attention.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I support the Bill and welcome the Minister to the House. I thank my colleagues, Senators Crown and Daly, for their collaboration on and commitment to this important public health and children's rights initiative. I echo Senator Crown's words on young Fionn O'Callaghan who, if he were present, would certainly convince everyone in this Chamber of the reason this Bill needs to be enacted without delay.

Article 24 on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child states that state parties recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. By banning smoking in cars with children present, we aim to protect the health of children who cannot otherwise protect themselves. I am not immune to some of the concerns raised by others in the lead up to this debate. It reminded me of the months preceding the ban on smoking in the workplace in March 2004. I was not convinced that it would work or whether it was right, because I was accustomed to going into a pub or cafe and leaving with the smell of smoke on my hair and on my clothes. Smoking had become so normalised for me that I did not know anything different. I was like the prisoners of Plato's cave; I had accepted the dancing shadows as my reality. However, at the very least, this mistake was one which I had the autonomy to make. Children do not enjoy this luxury. They cannot extract themselves from smoke filled environments as I could. They are often less aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke, while those who know the risks may not be in a position to challenge their parents or the adults who are driving them. Indeed, they should not have to do so. All children believe that their parents can shield them from danger, and that is a fiction they have a right to believe. Children should always feel safe when with their parents. They need to know that if nothing else, their mothers and fathers will always have their best interests at heart. By regulating this behaviour, we are taking the onus off the child and placing it back onto the parents, challenging them to live up to the expectations of their children.

I am sure everyone agrees that the medical evidence presented by Senator Crown is utterly compelling, yet in reviewing the arguments, I am reminded of an anecdote a bar tender once told me. Before the smoking ban was introduced, he would wipe down the bar every night and without fail the cloth was covered in thick grime. Once the ban came into force, he said he only had to wipe the bar down twice a week and the same level of grime was not there. That put a picture in my head of how much we do not see. While it is only an anecdote, I can but imagine the effect a prolonged exposure to such levels of smoke would do to the lungs of a child. According to the British Medical Association, the level of toxins in a car can be up to 11 times higher than in a smoky bar.

The national longitudinal study of children noted in 2009 that approximately 60% of nine year olds in Ireland travel to school by car, with an average journey time of ten minutes each way. In addition, we know that children are driven to sporting and youth activities, to other events and homes of friends, and to medical and other appointments. All that time in the car adds up. However, exposure of children to smoke during these journeys represents a substantial risk to their health and well being, so efforts must be made to ensure that these children enjoy the same protection that we have already afforded to adults. We all believe that we have a right not to be harmed or subjected to a significant risk of harm. When it became widely accepted that inhaling second-hand smoke posed such a risk, we legislated for this behaviour. If we believe that a child has the same right to protection from harm that adults enjoy, then there is a corresponding obligation to protect that child from the danger of second-hand smoke. Indeed the risk of harm from exposure to smoke is greater in the case of children. They are far more sensitive to tobacco smoke because their lungs and bodily defence mechanisms are still developing, because they inhale far more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults, and because they are more likely to have allergies or other conditions which make them more sensitive to airborne pollutants.

I have heard arguments that this legislation should be part of a wider prohibition of smoking in public places such as parks and beaches. Perhaps there is a need for greater public debate, and I welcome what the Minister has done to raise awareness among the public and to begin that debate. The Bill put forward today deals with a very discrete issue of smoking in cars with children. I appeal to county councillors around the country to use the by-laws and regulations of their councils to look at areas such as playgrounds and other places frequented by children. For example, I believe Fingal County Council is hoping to put it in place in the near future. Sometimes councillors say that they do not have powers to do certain things, but they have the powers to do this, so I appeal to councillors to use the powers they have where children are directly put in harm's way.

I echo the calls of Senator Crown in asking the Minister to accept the Bill today. He should also give a commitment on what will happen over the coming days and weeks. I ask the Minister to outline a clear timetable for the next Stages of this Bill. My hope is that this Bill will be in place for the summer holidays, so that children can go on holidays in a smoke free environment. This gives us enough time to consider any amendments, while also creating an urgency to protect children's health. The aim of such measures is to denormalise smoking. This Bill is about the protection of one of the most fundamental rights; the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. I am very aware of the Minister's commitment to this issue. I hope that today will be a first step of many quick steps that will soon see this Bill in place, so that we can show the power we have to improve and protect children's health.

5:00 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and I welcome the Bill put forward by Senator Crown, seconded by Senator van Turnhout and supported by Senator Daly. This is a welcome development. The Government side will look at it very carefully as there may be additional proposals or amendments made so that it can be fully implemented and be enforced. However, the overall attitude of the Government is to take on board this proposal and see it through.

One in every four people in this country smokes. Therefore, three out of every four people do not smoke. Up until a few years ago, these people encountered smoke no matter where they went, yet while we have since banned it in bars and restaurants, we have not banned it in cars. If three out of every four people who travel do not smoke, why should they have to sit and put up with the habits of other people? Over 5,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of smoking themselves or by enduring the habits of other smokers. Anything that can be done to reduce that risk is welcome.

It is interesting to see more recent figures on attitudes in Ireland and how we still lead in Europe in respect of young people who smoke. We still do not appear to have put across the message strongly enough. I read a survey where the figure for young smokers in Europe is as low as 12.1% in Sweden, 17% in Norway, and 20.7% in Italy, but in Ireland it is 22.4%. We still have a substantial number of young people who are beginning to smoke, and once people start smoking, it is that much more difficult for them to give it up. Anything that can help to reduce the number of people who smoke must be welcome.

The Minister already outlined proposals last December to make it mandatory for graphic images to be placed on packaging from 1 February 2013. These images set out quite clearly the damage that smoking can cause to a person's health. From 1 February 2014, no packet of cigarettes can be sold without those graphic images, and that is welcome.

We have much work to do to persuade people not to smoke.

Some 29% of people are still smoking and 24% smoke regularly. The problem is continuing and we are not making the inroads we should me making. Despite campaigns warning people about the health risks of smoking, the message is not getting home. We need to be more proactive. The Bill is another step in getting the message across. It deserves the support of this House and of the Dáil. We must make this amendment to the law.

Senator Crown has set the Bill out clearly. It is short and makes minor amendments. We must consider the concerns of the Government that the Bill be enforceable. I have already outlined my reservation about one issue. Could a person of 17 be prosecuted for smoking while driving a car? That is a technical issue and similar technical issues must be looked at.

Overall, the Bill is welcome and we should support it. It has the support of the Fine Gael group in the Seanad. We will table amendments at a later stage, but the general proposal is welcome. I congratulate Senators Crown, Daly and van Turnhout on bringing forward the legislation.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend Senators John Crown and Jillian van Turnhout and my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Mark Daly, on bringing it forward.

Some 7,000 people die from smoking related diseases in Ireland every year. Anything we can do about this is to be commended. As Minister for Health and Children in 2004, the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, introduced the first national smoking ban. The smoking ban was acknowledged nationally and internationally as the world's first ban on smoking in the workplace. The Government must support this Bill and introduce other measures aimed at eliminating smoking from society.

At the launch of the Bill in the audio-visual room last week, Senator Crown said the legislation is very important and will limit the exposure of children to harmful cigarette smoke in cars. Exposure of children to smoke in cars is especially dangerous as the levels of second-hand smoke in cars are very high because of the restricted area in which the smoke is circulated. As a result, the levels of smoke in cars is far higher than those in buildings. Second-hand smoke in cars can be ten times more concentrated than the levels considered unhealthy by the US Environmental Protection Agency. For the above reasons, my Fianna Fáil colleagues and I support the Bill.

Tobacco products and smoking have a severe and negative impact on the health of the nation. Such impacts come from active smoking or from exposure to second-hand smoke.

I am an ex-smoker. I gave up smoking more than 25 years ago. It was the achievement of my life and gave me the self-confidence to conquer other challenges. I loved every cigarette I smoked. I have empathy with the people I see smoking. However, the chance of getting lung cancer if one smokes for 25 years is very high.

I commend the Bill and wish it a fruitful passage through the House.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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With the agreement of the House, I will share my time with Senator Mary Moran.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the introduction of the Bill, which is a meaningful function and demonstrates how the House can work effectively. It also points to the wisdom of our Constitution in allowing an acknowledged expert, like Senator Crown, to have an input in the policy-making and legislative processes of the Oireachtas. While some people would complain about what this House does, this is a day when the Seanad is fulfilling an important role, the role for which it was designed. It is also good we can find cross-party support for the Bill. It shows that well-drafted, well-considered and well-intentioned legislation can find a way through the House, irrespective of which bench it comes from.

The Bill is straightforward and sensible. It raises the question of why it is necessary. It is a poor reflection on society that we find it necessary to make a law to prevent people from smoking in vehicles when there are children in those vehicles. One would imagine common sense and an ordinary sense of responsibility would make it clear to anyone that exposing children to second-hand smoke is unacceptable and that smoking in an enclosed space where children are present, such as a car, is particularly so. However, this is the world we live in and we should waste no time in bringing this legislation through the House.

Senator Crown presented a wide selection of supporting documentation to put his proposal in context. Having read those documents, we must give considerable consideration to the Bill. I am an ex-smoker. Anyone who smokes will be alarmed to hear that there are 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, including 60 known or suspected carcinogens. The effects of inhaling second-hand smoke are well known. Less well known is the fact that inhaling second-hand smoke in enclosed spaces exposes people to a much higher risk. For children to be exposed to second-hand smoke is bad enough, but for them to be exposed to it in the confines of a car is unacceptable. That those exposing children to second-hand smoke are likely to be their parents or guardians is the epitome of irresponsibility. We should not need to make this point, but I suppose we must.

If anyone wants to smoke, it is up to him or herself, so long as the activity does not expose others to second-hand smoke. At one time it was acceptable to smoke in bars and restaurants. I am sure the Minister remembers that 25 years ago it was acceptable to smoke in hospitals. Today, it seems appalling that people tolerate smoke in these situations. When the smoking ban was proposed, every type of argument was put forward as to why it could not and would not work. However, it was introduced, the sky did not fall in and the sun rose on following morning. Very few people would disagree that the implementation of the smoking ban was a good thing. People wondered how the ban would be policed and all sorts of bizarre scenarios were put forward about diverting Garda and HSE resources away from their core duties and towards tracking down establishments where the smoking ban was not being implemented. Proponents of the ban said that would not be necessary, that the ban would be, more or less, self-enforcing and that giving the ban a legislative framework would effect a cultural change where people would take responsibility for their own health. If one lit a cigarette in a bar today, it is unlikely the Garda would be called. Bystanders would make it known, in no uncertain terms, that it was unacceptable.

The Bill is more about education than sanctioning people. That is welcome and practical. It will effect a cultural change. I have one concern. Section 2 defines a child as someone aged 17 and under. Such a person can drive a car but cannot smoke while driving.

The Labour Party supports the Bill.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I add my support to the Bill and I commend the Senators on bringing it to the House. I also welcome the Minister.

Proven statistics on cancers and health related illnesses caused by second-hand smoke have long been highlighted. The ban on smoking in the workplace introduced in 2004 has been hugely successful and widely accepted throughout the country, despite initial reservations.

I am delighted to see the Bill before the House. I welcomed publicly the measure it proposes when it was raised in the House last year. I also commend health groups and welcome representatives of those groups who are in the Visitors Gallery. I acknowledge the work of ASH Ireland, which in 2008 launched a campaign to ban smoking in cars transporting children under the age of 16. I commend the Minister and agree with him we have a duty of care to our citizens and the duty is all the greater to citizens who do not have a voice, our children. That is the key fact we need to remember.

Speakers have referred to research and statistics on the dangers of second-hand smoke. Research shows passive smoke is especially harmful to children as they have a much higher respiratory and metabolic rate than adults. It is interesting that one survey carried out in 2009 showed that one in seven Irish children is exposed to second-hand smoke while travelling by car to school. That will have severe negative respiratory health effects. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke and exposure can increase the risk of respiratory diseases and even cot death. Second-hand smoke is 23 times more toxic in a car than in a bus. That is another urgent reason for the need to introduce the legislation.

We will have widespread support in the community for the change. In a recent Automobile Association, AA, poll, 85% of those surveyed agreed that smoking should be banned in cars where there are children as passengers. Passive smoking is the third most preventable cause of death in this country after direct smoking and drinking alcohol. We owe it to our children to protect them as much as we can.

I welcome the Bill to prevent children's health being harmed and to raise awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke by banning smoking in cars where children are present. I am delighted that we appear to have cross-party support. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Norris.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Does Senator Barrett wish to indicate how much time he is giving to Senator Norris?

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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It is strictly within the control of the Acting Chairman.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I will take the Senator up on that. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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This is a fantastic opportunity. The Minister can declare, as a result of the Bill so ably proposed by Senator Crown, 2 million places where smoking will no longer be permitted. There are 2 million private cars in the country out of a total of 2.5 million vehicles. We do not have smoking in the other 500,000 vehicles because they are regarded as workplaces and, accordingly, we do not smoke in buses and taxis. Nobody campaigns to have smoking re-introduced in buses and taxis. Approximately 1.2 million children will gain from the Minister designating 2 million places out of bounds as regards smoking. We could add parks and beaches but I will return to the number of 2 million, as this is a fantastic opportunity to ban smoking in 2 million cars. It strengthens what we have been doing extremely well.

Senator White referred to the smoking ban elsewhere - this is a logical extension of it – and the improvement in safety in general in transport in this country. We used to have more than 600 fatalities but it has now reduced to 180. We are making society much healthier. We might not always score highly in international banking comparisons but in this area we are leading the way in making this a healthier and better society. I commend the Minister on his leadership. Ireland is showing the world how to go.

One could ask what else we could do. It is worth examining the question of a no-claims bonus for non-smokers in health insurance as they are making positive attempts to improve their health standards. Perhaps the Minister would indicate whether that would be worth considering. There should no longer be smoking areas attached to hospitals. I accept that they have been moved away from the front doors of hospitals but it is strange that we are practising high quality medicine in hospital yet there are people smoking in the vicinity of doorways.

We might conduct research on the damage smoke does in house fires. They are appalling. When one sees on film how a fire develops, one does not have to worry about people being burned as they are destroyed by the smoke, whether the cause is due to electrical faults or people smoking in houses. Those are the next steps. This is a magnificent step forward by Senator Crown. I commend him and Senators van Turnhout, Burke and Daly. There is agreement across the House that this is worthwhile legislation. I commend it and thank the Minister for his attendance.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I thank Senator Barrett for his kindness. I commend my colleagues, in particular Senator Crown. I was fortunate enough to be in the AV room when he made his presentation. His speech on the Bill was a concentrated and even more brilliant demonstration of the presentation. I was greatly taken by the forcefulness, clarity and chutzpah of the young lad, Fionn O'Callaghan, in approaching the Taoiseach. I also learned this evening that he door-stepped the Minister. More power to him. He made a powerful argument indeed. I am pleased the Minister appears to be accepting the Bill because I was a little worried that he might want to associate it with the ban on smoking in parks and other public places, as there has been a campaign in that regard. The figures show that while there is a huge public swell of support for this measure, there is a considerable degree of resistance still to people being banned from smoking on beaches, for example. It would be a significant step forward to isolate the Bill and get it through the Houses in its present guise with massive public support.

I am pleased the Bill includes specifically the driver of the vehicle. One suggestion I made at the briefing had perhaps already occurred to Senator Crown, as he indicated that he felt it was already covered, albeit indirectly. In my usual way I can claim a small contribution to the Bill. Without Senator Crown we would not have had the Bill, which proves also the relevance of the Seanad. This is yet another example of a major social advance being made in this House. I am sure the Minister will pay tribute to that, as his predecessor, who just left the Chamber, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, paid tribute to the valuable contribution of Seanad Éireann in his generous remarks.

The issue is quite clear; children have no choice. Mea culpa, I speak as a sinner. I keep trying to give up smoking. I do not always succeed. I go back to it. It is an addiction. When I was young it was the thing to do. All the handsomest men in the cinema such as Cary Grant smoked. Audrey Hepburn had a cigarette holder out to here and she was the most glamorous thing on two legs. I draw Senator Crown's attention to the fact that doctors used to prescribe smoking as a cure for asthma. It really is lunacy. I am a victim of my age, if one likes, but there is no excuse now. Likewise, there is no excuse for parents subjecting their children to this kind of nuisance.

However, I would take very little comfort from the fact that Cyprus was the first to sign up to such a measure. I know Cyprus pretty well. It signed up to all kinds of things such as MOT tests. I drove up the mountains behind lorries filled with vines and the smoke coming out of the back of them would blind God almighty. I have seen people go down to the seaside in cars filled with children and both parents and half the children were puffing away on cigarettes. Even the farmers throw lighted cigarettes out of the car window. Every year we have fires caused as a result of such action. Let us not be like that; let us be firm and clear. Let us introduce the legislation.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I must inform the Senator that he is over time.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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In that case I will just end by saying that this is a principle and we do discriminate against children. It is awful that we do it. I will communicate with the Minister on a matter, the fact that to my certain knowledge a 14 year old girl is being told that she must wait 18 months for an endoscopy. We should put children first. As an adult I got an endoscopy within a week because I was on the highest scheme in the VHI. So is this girl. We must do something about that.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is sinning again.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Tá áthas orm an Bille seo a ghlacadh ó na Seanadóirí, ach tá deacracht éigin leis agus caithfimid caint mar gheall ar sin.

I am delighted that Senators Crown, van Turnhout and Daly have put forward this Bill. As others have said, the topic of smoking in cars where children are present has received much public attention in the past year or so, although it was mooted a number of years before that by Dr. Fenton Howell and ASH. The Bill is now contributing to that welcome focus. This topic and the issue of smoking in public places is being discussed around the nation in kitchens, pubs, workplaces and on the airwaves. Getting people's attention on the issue and generating a debate can only be a very good thing, regardless of what view one takes on the matter. Mobilising public awareness on any issue is an important step if we wish to successfully change our lifestyle behaviours.

Senators are aware of my position on the issue. I have expressed it many times. I previously indicated my stance and I am committed to taking the steps necessary to significantly reduce smoking in this country. I am particularly committed to working towards a time when children and young people will come to regard smoking as a foolish and unattractive thing to do. I am fully in favour of legislating for a ban on smoking in cars where children are present. As others have mentioned, I wish to make the debate a bit wider. Like all things in life, when one brings about a change, there is a little bit of shock and an uncomfortable sense about it but as people have time to think the matter through, debate and discuss it and realise the pros and cons, one gets a greater understanding and willingness to embrace the change. As people take time to consider, debate and discuss the matter and realise the pros and cons involved, there will be a greater understanding of it and also, perhaps, more of a willingness to embrace the change, particularly when it is aimed at safeguarding those who do not have a voice and look to us to protect them.

I could have taken legal advice which would have suggested the Bill ought to be withdrawn. However, while there are numerous difficulties with the legislation, I am not going to seek its withdrawal because I want to accept it. We will have a great deal of work to do in ensuring it passes Committee Stage. There are a number of reasons for this which I will discuss in detail. As stated, the Government supports the Bill. I hope Senators will allow my officials and I to progress it through the legislative process.

A number of legal considerations arise in respect of the Bill in its current form. The first relates to seeking legal clarification on whether the Bill must be notified to the European Commission under the technical standards directive prior to its proceeding through the legislative process. If it does prove necessary to refer it to the Commission and other member states, the legal advice indicates that this could involve a standstill period of between three and six months. I hope such an eventuality will not come to pass.

There are several other issues with the Bill, one of which is the fact that the Senators are seeking to addend it to the public health (tobacco) (amendment) Bill which, in part, relates to the workplace. Clearly, a car is not always a workplace. As a result, a number of matters arise. We want to ensure the legislation is robust and effective in its operation. I am confident that by working together we can achieve this. If there are deficiencies in the Bill, they will be exploited and challenged by the tobacco industry.

I want to be clear about one matter and hope my previous utterances on it have been sufficiently transparent. The Bill is not concerned with restricting the rights of adults, rather it is about protecting the rights of children. Neither is it about attacking smokers. It seeks to ensure children will not be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in cars. Children may not be aware of the dangers of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and cannot remove themselves from risk if people smoke around them. As others have stated, the Bill will empower children, particularly those who are older, to speak up in defence of their own rights. We recognise that most people are sensible and would not expose their children to the risk to which I refer if they had full knowledge of the harm being caused. The Bill and the debate on it will make that knowledge available to them. However, there will still be irresponsible individuals who will put their own addiction and habit ahead of their children's health. We need to legislate for such individuals.

Like previous speakers, I emphasise that environmental tobacco smoke is a carcinogen and contains the same cancer causing substances and toxic agents inhaled by the smoker. There is no safe level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. It is obvious that exposure to cigarette smoke is particularly dangerous in enclosed spaces such as the interior of a car. Parents and others with responsibility for the welfare of children have a particular obligation to ensure such exposure does not take place.

We sometimes miss out on the relevant statistics. In that context, 5,200 people die every year as a result of conditions caused by tobacco smoking. This means that 5,200 families and communities are affected by the results of smoking. Those who die are are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and friends. We do not want the next generation to suffer the same hardship and loss as that experienced by this generation and the one which preceded it.

Senator David Norris alluded to his own situation. I recall my father who was also a doctor informing me that if he had known at the age of seven years, when he began to smoke, what he had subsequently learned in his forties, he would never have taken up the habit. We all imitate what we see and denormalising smoking is about eliminating the images of smoking with which children are presented. Reference was made to the allure of smoking as portrayed on television and in films. I have clear and even fond memories from childhood of watching western films and then going to the shop to buy a bottle of red lemonade - very important that it was red - and a packet of sweet cigarettes. This was so that I could sit around drinking a glass of pretend whiskey, smoking a pretend cigarette and acting like I was a cowboy. Children learn by imitating their parents and other adults. We are all aware that in the early teenage years, peer pressure is a far greater influence than parental pressure.

As Senator John Crown observed, smoking in cars has been banned in a number of countries. We are undertaking a comprehensive review of such bans in the context of their effectiveness and how they have been implemented. We also require information on the level of compliance and methods of enforcement in the countries to which I refer. I have asked the Health Research Board to review all of the international evidence in this regard. I have also allocated money for the board to examine the reasons the prevalence of smoking in this country has not decreased, despite the smoking ban. Even though our children are not, as we were, exposed to tobacco advertising and do not see the brightly coloured cigarette packets on the shelf behind the sweet counter in their local shops, the prevalence of smoking remains stubbornly high at 29%. We need to discover what the tobacco industry is doing to ensnare the next generation.

If one were to consider this matter logically, one would ask children and young adults why they were prepared to pay the guts of €10 for a product that was going to cause them ill health, lead to their contracting cancer and cause them to die earlier than should be the case. Cancer is not the only condition to which tobacco smoking gives rise. People who smoke can also suffer heart attacks and strokes and contract peripheral vascular disease. In my medical practice I used to give patients who had diabetes and smoked a little piece of paper that was to be inserted into every box of cigarettes they bought and on which was written the following, "Diabetes plus smoking equals amputation". That is how bad smoking is for diabetics. The chances of diabetics who smoke losing, first, a toe and, later on, a limb are huge. In some cases, amputation is almost inevitable.

The Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society has conducted research to estimate the prevalence of environmental tobacco smoke exposure in cars in Ireland. The initial research which covered almost 3,000 children aged 13 to 14 years indicated that 14.9% of children were exposed to smoking in cars. The Health Research Board's review, to which I referred, has highlighted a US survey which contains worrying statistics. It indicates that 23% of the 11 to 15 year olds surveyed stated they had been an occupant in a car with someone who was smoking in the week prior to their completing the questionnaire. Research carried out by the MRBI in 2007 on behalf of ASH Ireland showed 79% public support for the initiative in respect of smoking in cars. ASH Ireland also refers to an ongoing poll on irishhealth.com which shows that over 80% support a ban on smoking in cars. The levels of compliance and public support for smoke-free public places legislation demonstrate that people are keen to reduce their exposure to second-hand smoke. A study which considered smoking in the home after the smoke-free public places legislation had come into force in Scotland found that respondents had more robust restrictions on smoking in their cars than in their homes. While I am in no doubt that all parents, relatives and carers want to protect the health of the children in their care, sometimes the onus is on us, the policy and law makers, to remind people of their obligations in this regard. Again, I cannot help but re-emphasise the fact that this matter relates to children who have neither a voice nor a vote and who look to us to protect them. We have a duty of care to these children and must fulfil that duty.

The development of the legislation before the House is a way of reminding those who care about the welfare of their children not to light up in a car in which children are present. It will also serve as a punitive measure for those who knowingly continue to disregard the welfare of children. Peer pressure does count. When the legislation is eventually enacted, if one sees someone smoking in a car in which children are present, one will feel empowered and have every right to beep one's horn, roll down one's window and remonstrate with him or her. Taking action in respect of those who smoke in cars in which children are present is just one of the many matters being considered by my Department. As stated, smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in Ireland. The number of premature deaths caused by tobacco use in Ireland is far greater than the combined death toll relating to car accidents, fires, heroin and cocaine abuse, murders and suicides. It is a shocking fact that we allow such a product to be used by minors. In 2000 the document, Towards a Tobacco Free Society, was adopted as Government policy. Our aim continues to be a move towards a tobacco-free society.

I am particularly concerned about the number of young people who continue to take up the habit each year. While it is heartening that the numbers of school-aged children who smoke has been decreasing steadily in recent years, more needs to be done to understand why young people start to smoke. My Department is smoking - I mean working. It certainly is not smoking.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Hopefully not.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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My Department is working on commissioning research which will give us the answers to this question in the Irish context. We must remember our young people are not now exposed to tobacco industry advertising in the media or in shops as they used to be. The pull factors are coming from other areas and sources which we must identify to effectively tackle them.

Tomorrow, the Secretary General of the Department of Health will issue the instruction that it will be a smoke-free campus. I agree with Senators that it is weird that when one walks to the front door of a hospital, one has to wade through cigarette smoke and butts. The tobacco policy review group is working on finalising its report which I will be submitting to my Cabinet colleagues for approval. This report will be of assistance in reducing the level of smoking in our society. A major part of achieving this is to denormalise smoking in our society. There are initiatives already under way that play an important role in denormalising smoking. One example is the tobacco-free hospital campus initiatives operated by the Health Service Executive, HSE.

When I attended the United Nations last year in New York, I noted the city authorities amended the Smoke-Free Air Act to ban smoking in some outdoor public spaces, specifically all New York city public parks, beaches, boardwalks, marinas, public golf courses, sports stadia and pedestrian plazas such as Times Square. Fingal County Council has taken the initiative in this area and completed a pilot study on this over the past year. It will be voting at its next meeting on making 50 parks with playground areas smoke-free zones. In its research the council found that 95% of people are in favour of reducing second-hand smoke in playgrounds while 95% are in favour of a complete ban on smoking in playgrounds. In 2008, cigarette waste formed 47.3% of the overall litter composition in Fingal. One journalist made the point she does not want her children rooting around in the sand on the beach finding cigarette butts.

I believe the debate about smoking in cars in which there are children is at the point that most people understand its significance, the harm it causes and the need to ban it. I hope with a bit more time, people will understand the problems presented by people smoking where children are present such as in parks and on beaches. If we can enforce the law around mobile telephone use while driving, we can certainly enforce a law around smoking in cars with children present. This is not about a nanny state. We are not telling adults what to do in their own time and place. We are advising them it will be against the law to endanger children through their personal habit.

I congratulate Senators Crown, Daly and van Turnhout for the introduction of this Bill. I want it to progress as quickly as possible but there are legal considerations. The Government has a heavy legislative schedule but it is great that the Seanad can contribute by bringing forward its own legislation.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with Senator MacSharry.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to the House and thank him for his statement. We are fortunate to have him, as well as Senator Crown, in this debate. Both doctors have significant experience in this field and Senator van Turnhout has experience as an advocate of children's rights.

To praise the Minister comes easy given he has welcomed the Bill. Since I was elected to the House, often when Fianna Fáil was in government, positive legislation was shot down just because it came from the other side of the House. The Minister could easily have come in here claiming there are flaws in the Bill and, accordingly, he would not accept it. We accept no Bill will be introduced in this House and leave in the same condition. Amendments will have to be made. The Minister has pointed out some amendments that have to be made but I am glad he is willing to work with the legislation put together by Senator Crown and his staff, Shane Conneely. It points out the Seanad can do things differently because it has the expertise.

Senator Crown pointed out how a child in a car with an adult smoking will inhale as much smoke as a fire-fighter will inhale fighting a four to eight hour fire. That statement alone tells us this legislation is right. The fact it was not done previously now strikes us as strange. What we also have is widespread support for this measure. In Australia, similar legislation in 2005 had a 90% approval. Up to 72% of people surveyed in England support banning smoking in cars while children are present. An international review of North America, the UK and Australasia shows an overall 76% approval for banning smoking in cars with children present. In years to come, we will find it strange that this did not happen a long time ago as smoking causes more deaths than suicide, alcohol and cocaine, and children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to have cancer in later life.

I thank the Minister for his genuine support for this Bill. I know there will be changes and I, along with Senators Crown and van Turnhout, look forward to working with his Department's officials to ensure this legislation can be introduced before the summer. I acknowledge the difficulties the Minister outlined. Not that I read the Bible much but I recall the adage to the effect that if one saves one life, one saves the world entire. Changing people's attitudes and ensuring children are not exposed to harmful second-hand smoke – which as Senator van Turnhout said of which they have no control - by bringing in this simple law will ensure lives are saved. The figure of over 5,000 people who die every year as a result of smoking will also be reduced. As a result of the Minister's actions on this legislation, many people will live to enjoy old age in the comfort of their families and friends.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I commend Senators Crown, Daly and van Turnhout for their initiative in bringing forward this legislation. Eight years ago, Fianna Fáil and our current leader, Deputy Martin, brought forward the smoking ban. As a smoker at the time, I opposed this internally in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Now, having been off cigarettes for six and a half years and with the benefit of hindsight, I must say there is no way I would have succeeded to give them up if it were not for the smoking ban. To any smoker in a car with children in it wondering when he or she can have a cigarette I say he or she will look back on legislation such as this and offer great thanks. There is no question but that it will save lives.

I am sure other Senators have gone through the statistics. Senator John Crown's analogy of the firefighter and the child in a car is very stark. I was ridiculed for opposing the smoking ban when it was introduced and I am more than prepared to admit how wrong I was and how important was that legislation. With so many others, I have benefited from it by being able to give up smoking. We must constantly look to do more. The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, who is also welcome have mentioned how some hospitals do not allow smoking on entire campuses. This is a good initiative that could be mimicked by various employer groups. We could lead by example in these Houses. Although I am sure the smokers among us would not welcome it, they would not mind a short walk to the gate rather than smoking on the Leinster House campus and in Government Buildings. We could do worse than mirror the actions of the HSE in that context.

On behalf of the group of which I am a member, I congratulate Senators Mark Daly, John Crown and Jillian van Turnhout and commend the Government for accepting the Bill. I hope that, unlike other good legislative proposals, legislation such as this, even with the name of a Fianna Fáil Senator attached, will be accepted in the way this Bill has been, allowing various Members to make suggestions on Committee Stage.

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Senator Catherine Noone.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, and the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, for taking the time to be with us today. I welcome this Private Members' Bill and commend the Senators who brought it forward. Senator John Crown has significant expertise in the area, especially on the effects of smoking on health from a cancer perspective. We are very lucky to have him in the House.

As Senator John Gilroy mentioned, we know environmental tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 substances, several of which are known to cause cancer in humans. They can cause lung cancer in adults who do not smoke and increases heart disease rates. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of passive smoking because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults and little control over their indoor environment. Children exposed to high doses of passive smoking such as those whose mothers smoke run the greatest risk of experiencing damaging health effects such as asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, pneumonia, bronchitis and middle ear infections. Children whose parents smoke are also more likely to become smokers themselves.

With regard to parents who smoke while driving, the concentration of second-hand smoke in such vehicles can reach very high levels. Making vehicles smoke-free would reduce children's exposure to second-hand smoke. Parents want nothing but the best for their children and many parents make great sacrifices for their children's benefit. If parents knew how harmful second-hand smoke was to children, most would take steps to protect them. Educational efforts can play a crucial role in helping parents to understand why they need to protect their children from this health hazard and how to do so effectively. Paediatricians are especially well positioned to influence parents on this issue.

As a result of the high levels of exposure in vehicles to second-hand smoke among young children and the health problems they experience as a result, this should be considered to be a significant medical issue. I am delighted to hear Fingal County Council plans to have playgrounds, parks and public areas smoke-free. Every local authority should take such an initiative. There is no safe level of exposure, unless it is a smoke-free environment. I am also glad to hear from the Minister that a review is under way to identify further policy proposals that could be introduced aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking in Ireland.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Senators John Crown, Mark Daly and Jillian van Turnhout on introducing this Bill. It is a good idea that I firmly favour. I do not wish to repeat what other Senators have said, but the evidence, both in quality and volume, is clear that passive smoking poses an immediate danger to both adults and children.

One aspect that concerned me during the public debate was the emergence of a pro-smoking lobby in Ireland. Forest Ireland holds an absurd abstract notion that the rights and freedoms of smokers are somehow sacrosanct and above those of non-smokers. Cultural acceptance of an immoral industry which uses lobby groups and public affairs firms in Ireland should be stopped. The organisation seeks to infiltrate the Irish media and influence commentary on the industry, while advocating alternative viewpoints, with funding given to it by smoking lobbyists in the United Kingdom. It is a disgrace.

The Bill is visionary, much like the ban on smoking in workplaces such as pubs. The evidence on the effects of passive smoking can be stacked up, with a certain amount of deaths attributable to the effects of second-hand smoke. I am certain the public health advantages far outweigh the argument of the restriction on perceived personal liberties. Passive smoking poses a significant danger, both in the short and medium term. According to the World Health Organization, some 40% of all children are exposed to second-hand smoke at home, with young children exposed to second-hand smoke at home being up to twice as likely to start smoking as those not so exposed. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke, in respect of which Senator John Crown has given us details. As a result, asthma and lung infections are more common in children who grew up around smokers.

Senator Colm Burke mentioned section 3(2)(i). Perhaps the age limit of 18 years could be reduced to cater for 17 year old drivers.

I join other speakers in making the point that this legislation shows how effective the Seanad can be. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I commend the Senators involved, especially Senator John Crown, for bringing forward this important Bill. My party supports the motivation behind it. The smoking ban has been a great success and, undoubtedly, improved public health and our living environment. The Bill seeks to extend it. We have a number of difficulties with parts of it which must be teased out. We share some of the concerns expressed by the Minister, an example being the issue of enforcement. It is appropriate that the Bill be supported in order that we can tease out the issues raised on Committee Stage. The Minister has stated we need enforceable and strong legislation, for which there will be cross-party support.

The Bill provides an opportunity to address some of the issues surrounding smoking. Progress has been made in recent years in this regard, especially with the smoking ban. Studies have shown the benefits, both for workers in indoor areas and the general public. However, smoking is still too prevalent. We, therefore, need effective legislative measures and enforcement to curb smoking and stamp out the selling of cigarettes to minors. In 2009 a survey undertaken by the Office of Tobacco Control showed that 40% of shop retailers and 63% of licensed premises were willing to sell cigarettes to minors. Legislative measures have been introduced to address this issue and more are being contemplated.

Young people are continuing to start smoking in large numbers. A study undertaken by Dr. Alan Moran in Drogheda considered the issues of peer - parent and sibling - pressure and the reasons teenagers stopped smoking. Dr. Moran surveyed pupils in three main secondary schools in the north east and the results indicated that if a sibling smoked, an adolescent was 3.5 times more likely to smoke. If a best friend smoked, an adolescent was 11.5 times more likely to smoke. Of the boys surveyed, some 75% reported they enjoyed smoking. However, 80% reported they had made an attempt to stop smoking, while 70% wanted to stop. Some 34% had begun to smoke because of stress, 15% to "feel cool", 11% to gain confidence, 10% for enjoyment, 9% because of an addiction and 3.3% because friends smoked. In spite of legislation banning the sale of cigarettes to people under the age of 16, all the adolescent smokers surveyed for the study stated they were able to buy cigarettes in licensed premises and shops. Clearly there is a need to ensure the number of young people who take up smoking is minimised as much as possible. Smoking in cars in which there are children is irresponsible and makes smoking seem normal and acceptable. Clearly it is not.

The title of the legislation says it all - Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012 - which is essentially what we want to do. We have a difficulty with aspects of the Bill and are concerned about its enforcement. It is a bit different from what we were trying to do before and what we have done. It may be more problematic to ban smoking in private cars, but it is not impossible. We believe we must get the legislation right. We are reassured by the Minister who said he is of that mind. Many older people who smoked are experiencing all the damaging consequences of smoking. The cost in terms of population health and the drain on the scarce resources of the public health service is substantial. The campaign to reduce smoking and to work towards a smoke free society is very important and needs to be maintained and expanded.

I take this opportunity to comment on the price of tobacco. Action on Smoking and Health, ASH, Ireland expressed its disappointment that the Minister for Finance did not increase the price of tobacco sufficiently in the budget. Price is recognised by the World Health Organization and others as the most important way of encouraging smokers to quit and discouraging young people from experimenting with tobacco. The Government, however, expressed the view that such price increases might encourage tobacco smuggling. That is an inadequate and evasive response. I call on the Government to consider such measures for inclusion in the next budget.

We support the passage of this Bill. I thank the Senators who tabled it, especially Senator Crown, whose knowledge and experience gives it clout. I have asked him on several occasions, which perhaps he will, to arrange a briefing for Oireachtas Members on cancer care. Great strides are being made internationally in cancer research and treatment. All parties must work with the Minister to ensure this Bill becomes enforceable and robust legislation.

6:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I compliment Senator Crown et al on introducing the Bill and the Minister on his stance. He has spoken widely on this issue. Despite the significant tobacco control measures that have been established to date and the widespread knowledge of the harm they cause, as the Minister of State said, smoking rates are still not decreasing. Senator Crown gave details of the confined space in a car. More has to be done about educating people in general, in particular about the dangers of smoking in cars. Protecting our children from harmful smoke must be the utmost priority of any public health policy on tobacco control.

A lot has been said about the dangers of smoking and health. The Minister is speaking to the converted. Since he came into office in the past year he has progressed issues on smoking regulations and the obligations of tobacco manufacturers to put graphic pictures on cigarette packets. There was an increase in excise duty. Such measures affect adults. This measure will speak for voiceless children.

Electronic cigarettes are not covered by this measure. They are banned in certain countries. A study was done in America on 19 brands of electronic cigarettes. Most have vaporised nicotine. Brazil, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Thailand have banned them. They did not ban them for no reason. I would like the Minister to consider banning them. It would be very easy for somebody to take out an electronic cigarette and stub a real cigarette out. They look exactly like a normal cigarette. If a garda came to the window of a car the driver could argue he or she was smoking an electronic cigarette in the car which has the same scent as a normal cigarette. Enforcement of the measure will be difficult as long as such products are on the market in Ireland.

Other countries have done research. Electronic cigarettes were introduced about eight years ago. They are peddled on Ryanair flights which gives a bad example to children. We are discussing banning smoking in cars because of the example it gives to children. As electronic cigarettes look exactly like normal ones it defeats the purpose of the measure. More education should be available on such cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States and Health Canada 2009 did surveys on them and advised against their use. They are relatively new in the Irish context, therefore few studies are available. I ask that the issue be considered in terms of enforcement and health. The Minister of State mentioned the work done by Fingal County Council, which I commend. South Dublin County Council is introducing local policies under local regulations for parks. Mr. Brian Sheehan is investigating the matter and following up on it.

According to the HSBC 2010, 12% of ten to 17 year old children smoke, which is very young. While we are considering banning adults from smoking in a household where children are present we should also consider banning children from smoking in cars where adults are present. If a ten year old child smokes a parent can say he or she was driving and not smoking. We need to work on this serious issue.

Senator Hayden made a good point. The use of mobile phones is banned in cars. There are no hands-free cigarettes, unlike hands-free phones. Until such time as they are introduced we should consider an outright ban on cigarettes in cars.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I rise primarily to commend my good friend and colleague, Senator Crown, the Acting Chairman and Senator Daly for their initiative in this regard. I compliment Senator Crown for an initiative he raised in the House which showed its value and effectiveness. He managed to single-handedly move one of the great ships of State, the Department of Health, to accept his premise that new high-class state-of-the-art cancer drugs should be made available to those who need them most, having argued very cogently in this regard.

Senator Cullinane's remarks are perhaps the best way of reflecting the enormous contribution Senator Crown makes to the House and the expertise he provides to those of us who are not aware of the nuances of health. The initiative will save lives. I do not think there is any higher calling than somebody who takes an initiative such as this. The end result is that its acceptance by the Government and Department of Health will mean some lives will be saved. It is a wonderful achievement and legacy.

As the Minister of State and Senators have outlined, this is also about the protection and saving of lives. Despite the technicalities of legislation and the fact the legislative process will probably change the Bill to make it more technically acceptable, the original premise will remain. It will ban smoking in cars and ultimately save lives. I agree with Senators Keane and Hayden that this measure could have been introduced under road traffic legislation. Section 4 refers to the authorised officer as being a member of An Garda Síochána which would suggest that when the Bill becomes law it will permit a garda to enforce the law in the same way he or she would enforce any other road traffic violations. It is a moot point. I have no doubt that, as the Minister of State indicated, the Bill in its original form will be changed to some degree. I am sure the sponsors of the Bill, like the rest of us, will await that with great interest.

I want to focus on one point, namely, a significant public information campaign. I and my wife, Sheila, have been blessed with five children. None of us smoke, except our eldest boy who is now 21 years of age. He went to a boarding college, which I will not name, when he was 12 years of age because he wanted to. He did not like it and I am not sure if it liked him but after less than a year he went back to his local school where he proved to be quite happy.

He said, and I agree with him, that the only thing he learned during his ten or 11 months in boarding college was how to smoke. The reason for that was there was very little to do for most of the day. A declining number of males and females attend boarding colleges but they are still in existence. It is a sad reflection that the one thing he took from it was that peer pressure was put on him to smoke. He was hanging around for a large part of the day and had little else to do. The teaching staff of such schools have a responsibility in this regard. They are good in many other areas but perhaps this issue slips under the radar. All of us who went through the school system know people went outside to smoke.

I do not want to bore the House by saying where I used to smoke. I was not in a boarding college; I attended a day school. When the Bill is passed perhaps there could be interaction with schools. I do not think scare tactics necessarily work with young people. Senator Daly and others referred to the stark statistics on smoking and the end result. I do not think that necessarily scares young people. One of our colleagues referred to the fact that young people see themselves as being inviolate and that life goes on for ever and a day. There is not much point in telling them otherwise. When I say to my son that if he continues to smoke, he will have health problems when he reaches his 40s, he just shrugs his shoulders. His generation does not relate to health warnings so there must be another way to convey the message. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall, who was present, can help. I also welcome another Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is attempting to diminish the impact of the abuse of another drug, which is drink. Perhaps she will examine the area of smoking and not only when the legislation is passed. Can we have a more information-based environment to help deliver the message to young people?

Many years ago there were public information campaigns on television. I remember, as a youngster, that people living in the Border counties were fortunate to receive all the British stations long before they were available in Dublin and along the east coast. My part of the country was looked on as being deprived but we received British television when I was a child. There were many series of information advertisements but, ironically, I recently read that the department in England responsible has been wound up because it is a quango that is surplus to requirements, with the function being farmed out somewhere else. I do not see many television campaigns, especially in the public health area, on our screens. Perhaps the Minister for Health might examine the possibility and I am sure Senator Crown has a view too because of his profession.

I commend the Bill, as all sides of the House have done. It is a wonderful acknowledgement of the work carried out by focused Senators and I wish it well in its passage into law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar ais go dtí an tSeanaid. I commend, as all previous speakers have done, Senators Crown, van Turnhout and Daly on their great, short Bill that will greatly benefit the country.

The threat that passive smoking poses to health has been eloquently stated by my colleague, Senator Crown, and the danger to children's health as they sit in smoke-filled cars has been highlighted and I will not reiterate it.

I was reared in a smoke-filled house because my parents chain smoked. Senator Crown mentioned the possible risk of meningitis. My mother died when she was 29 years old and she was a chain smoker but my father lived until he was 92 years. My younger brother was two and a half years old when he died of meningitis and perhaps a smoking environment contributed to his death.

Previous speakers said they smoked at some stage of their lives but for some reason I never tried to smoke. I have other habits, but I do not intend to tell the House what they are. At times, they can be-----

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I do not intend to ban them.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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That was going to be my next statement.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Not in cars anyway.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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The Bill will make adults more aware of the dangers of smoking in confined places such as cars, jeeps and similar vehicles. There are environmental issues to be considered also. As a Tidy Towns activist, nothing annoys me more than seeing our streets littered with cigarette butts. The problem is not confined to areas outside licensed premises. The last thing many people do before entering a shop - be it a butcher's shop or a supermarket, for example - is drop a cigarette on the ground, stamp on it and abandon it. I commend and support this draft Bill and encourage the Minister to take it to the next legislative stage as quickly as possible. Previous speakers have mentioned that, as legislators, we are obliged to protect the health of the children of the country who often do not have a voice of their own or a voice to speak for them. I commend my colleagues, Senators John Crown, Jillian van Turnhout and Mark Daly, for introducing this legislation which I encourage the Minister to bring to the next stage.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I express my overwhelming sense of gratitude to my Seanad colleagues for their support for this legislation. In particular, I thank Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Mark Daly for helping to draft it and bring it to this stage. I thank the Seanad for the quality of the debate, the high level of information provided and the attention given to it. I also thank the parliamentary parties. I am aware that they discussed the legislation during their meetings and I am grateful to them for deciding to advance it. I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, the Ministers of State and the Government as a whole for the extraordinary spirit of co-operation they have demonstrated in advancing the legislation. I am new to this process. It had been suggested to me that when ideas which were perceived as being good were advanced into the halls of the Oireachtas by Deputies or Senators not members of a Government party, it was sometimes the case that lip service was paid to the quality of the legislation before the Government promised to introduce something better. I am grateful, therefore, that this legislation has received such support. That will help the Bill to be passed more quickly, expeditiously and smoothly.

I am tremendously sorry that I did not bring my mother here today, as I do not think she believes I am as successful in life as some of my colleagues think I am. It would have been nice for her to have heard the many nice things being said. Given that historically I have not had the closest of relationships with those who have held the position of Minister for Health, it is very inspiring for me that three ministerial representatives of the Department of Health came to the House to support the Bill this evening.

I acknowledge that this initiative is not wholly our idea. Others have suggested it. The Minister has mentioned that ASH Ireland took up the cause a number of years ago and I am grateful that it is represented in the Visitors Gallery tonight. The Irish Cancer Society has also been very supportive of general anti-smoking initiatives. The main advantage of the approach being taken by my colleagues and me is that we have a foot in the halls of power and are in a position to give these good ideas a little entrée into the legislative process. If this simple, stand-alone Bill is passed in its current form or in some version of its current form that contains necessary legal adjustments to make it applicable, enforceable and compliant with existing legislation, it will make a difference. If the Bill, as it stands, is substantially passed, without anything else being done, it will make a real difference to the lives of children, those who are alive now and who will be born in the future.

It must be acknowledged that the tobacco industry has a track record of opposing any legislation that appears to roll back the "rights of smokers". I recommend to all my colleagues that they read an interesting book, The Emperor of All Maladies, which is a history of the war on cancer. It sets out the extraordinary lengths to which the tobacco industry went when the simple and obvious discoveries made at an early stage made it apparent that smokers were more likely to develop lung cancer. The industry's efforts to try to prove this was not the case continued until the last decade. That leads me to believe substantial attempts will be made to confuse some of the issues raised in this simple Bill with some of the larger and more ambitious legislative programmes being proposed. I emphasise that I will support the broader legislative proposals coming down the line in an attempt to further diminish the scourge of smoking in our society. I will be extremely supportive of attempts by the Minister for Health and his ministerial colleagues to introduce further legislation in this regard. The Bill before the House stands on its own as a simple, small legislative attempt to make a difference. Perhaps I will acquire more expertise on the European technical standards directive, the existence of which I was not aware of until it was mentioned by the Minister.

My colleague, Mr. Shane Kenneally, and his colleagues who work for Senators Mark Daly and Jillian van Turnhout have done wonderful work to advance the legislative process. We are all available at short notice to meet any of the officials who would like this matter to be advanced quickly. We are continuing to work to the goal of having the Bill signed into law before the end of the current Oireachtas term in order that children can go on their holidays this summer in cars free from the scourge of smoking. We will support amendments that are necessary, as long as the core central component of the Bill is maintained. In other words, the legislation will have to continue to ensure a child, defined as someone who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday, will not under any circumstances be exposed to tobacco smoke in a car, regardless of who is driving and even if he or she is the driver. I remind the House that a child should not be allowed to purchase cigarettes until his or her 18th birthday.

I thank the Minister of State for sitting through this part of the debate. I ask her to pass on my gratitude to her ministerial colleagues. I thank everybody who was in attendance for the debate and hope the legislation will be advanced quickly.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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In view of the Minister's statement about the need to engage in consultation and consider the European technical standards directive, we propose that Committee Stage be taken on Wednesday, 6 June. That will be D-Day.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 6 June 2012.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.