Seanad debates

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

11:50 am

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013 and to outline the background to the amendments being introduced. As a public health measure, Ireland has for many years set a mandatory level below which the price of cigarettes could not be lowered. For over 30 years an arrangement was in place between the Department of Health and Irish tobacco companies whereby a weighted average price was calculated for cigarettes based on sales volumes data and retail prices to year end each year. However, in 2010 the European Court of Justice ruled that by imposing minimum retail prices for cigarettes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under article 9(1) of Council Directive 95/59/EC. As a consequence of the court judgment, Ireland can no longer set a mandatory level below which cigarette prices cannot be lowered, as this would be restricting the freedom of industry to make effective use of competitive advantage. The Commission indicated that infringement proceedings would be initiated unless Ireland took steps to comply with the court's judgment.

As a result of this ruling, my Department informed the tobacco industry that the practice of setting floor prices for cigarettes each year would cease. In addition Ireland advised the Commission that new regulations would be introduced to remedy the infringement. Draft regulations were developed to remove the price setting provisions currently in our tobacco regulations. During this process, and after a considerable period of time, the Commission indicated that in addition to the new regulations the primary enabling tobacco legislation would also have to be amended to meet with the requirements of the court judgment. The purpose of amending the primary legislation would be to remove the legal basis for the fixing of a minimum price. In order to comply with the court judgment, therefore, new regulations were to be devised and the primary tobacco legislation was to be amended.

It is important to state that I have completed the first step in complying with the court's ruling.

Last December I signed regulations, the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion)(Amendment) Regulations 2012, which had the effect of removing the regulatory basis for the fixing of a minimum price. On examination of the tobacco legislation, it appeared that both the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 and the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act 1978 required amendment to satisfy the court judgment. This Bill achieves this in that it removes the legal basis for the fixing of a minimum price. However, in amending the relevant sections of the Act it is important that I and future Ministers retain powers to introduce regulations relating to tobacco sales promotion activities. A provision in the Bill allows for the development of regulations in this regard. More specifically, it sets out some of the types of promotions to be included in these regulations such as prohibiting buy-three-for-two, happy hour promotions or buy-one-get-one-free offers. The issue of sales promotion activities falls outside of the European Court of Justice ruling because it does not relate to minimum or maximum pricing of tobacco and was not, therefore, a direct requirement of the European Commission.

Section 1 amends section 38 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 by removing any perceived price fixing provision. However, it retains the power to make regulations in respect of activities which are intended or are likely to promote the sale of tobacco products. Specifically, the new section 38(10) gives the Minister for Health the power to make these regulations.

The new section 38(10A) sets out some of the provisions which may be included in these regulations, namely, the prohibition of the promotion and sale of tobacco products at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another tobacco product or other products or services. This covers the types of promotions mentioned - buy-three-for-two, happy hour promotions or buy-one-get-one-free offers. It also covers the prohibition of the promotion and sale of tobacco products at a reduced price or free of charge for a limited period of time on any day. This prohibits happy hour type promotions.

The new section 38(11) makes it an offence for someone to contravene the regulations made under section 38(10). In this context, it is important to state my Department, in consultation with the Health Service Executive, is continuously monitoring the ever evolving marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. As these evolve, so too must our legislative and policy framework.

I am sorry the young men and ladies from France have left the Visitors Gallery. It is important to remind ourselves that 700,000 Europeans, including 5,200 Irish citizens, die every year from tobacco related illnesses. It must be remembered that the tobacco companies must replace these customers with new ones. Whom do they go after? They go after our children. Why can I say this with such conviction? Irish surveys have shown that 78% of smokers started when they were under 18 years of age. The figure is the same in the rest of Europe. How do they attract young people to smoking? Most young people will say they started smoking because it looked cool. For the tobacco companies, their nirvana is getting people addicted after smoking 20 fags. A person under the age of 18 years is a minor and the State has a duty to protect him or her. If one is addicted before reaching 18 years, what choice does one have after passing that age? This is one of the most addictive substances known and would not be legalised if it were discovered today. I intend to introduce a Bill to introduce plain cigarette packaging, as was done in Australia. That will tackle that form of advertising. Smoking causes cancers and pain, damaging the lungs, heart and throat.

I have been asked by the industry not to refer to it as evil. How else can one describe an industry that produces and promotes an addictive product to children which will kill one in two of them? I intend to wage war on this industry because it is killing more people in Europe every year than anything else. If one looks at the cumulative number of lives lost in Europe, one is looking at a greater number of people dying from smoking than were killed in the Second World War. No one can talk about a nanny state. Adults can do as they wish, but I, as Minister, and the Legislature have a responsibility to protect children and that we will do.

Section 2 repeals provisions contained in section 2 of the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act 1978. It also revokes regulation No. 17 in the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Regulations 1991. These provisions contain price fixing elements which are seen to be in contravention of the relevant European Council directive. In this regard, they were deemed to be restricting the freedom of industry to make effective use of competitive advantage and must be removed. I have asked the Department to investigate how we can address issues of public health importance being dominated by a competition directive. It should never be a case of jobs over lives. The countries that grow tobacco should be offered incentives to become involved in other industries.

Specifically, section 2(1) repeals sections 2(1 )(c), 2(2)(h) and (2)(2)(i) of the 1978 Act. Section 8 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002, as amended by section 4 of the Public Health (Tobacco)(Amendment) Act 2004, sets out the provision for the repeal of the 1978 Act. However, it is important to note that this provision has not yet commenced and the 1978 Act has not yet been repealed.

Section 2(2) is a standard saver provision. Section 2(3) revokes regulation No. 17 in the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Regulations 1991. This regulation had already been amended, while regulation No. 16 was deleted by the regulations I signed in December 2012 to remove any price fixing provisions from them. The revocation outlined is to allow my Department to introduce new regulations, mentioned previously, relating to sales promotion activities. This will ensure there will be no overlap of provisions.

Section 3 is a standard provision. It provides for the Short Title, collective citation, construction and commencement.

As a doctor with decades of experience, I have seen at first hand the damage caused to the health of those who become addicted to tobacco. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths in Ireland. Each year more than 5,200 Irish people die prematurely from diseases caused by tobacco use, while over 700,000 Europeans die annually from tobacco-related diseases. Smoking is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe; it causes more problems than alcohol, drug abuse and obesity. A study commissioned by the European Union estimates that in Ireland health expenditure on treating smoking related illnesses is approximately €500 million, while approximately €170 million is lost because of absenteeism and long-term incapacity due to smoking.

From my perspective as Minister for Health, Government tobacco control initiatives are about saving lives. However, it is obvious that from an economic perspective there is an additional incentive for us to reduce the number of smokers in our country. When we discussed this in Europe, it became apparent that the tobacco industry is worth approximately €20 billion to the Union as a whole, but we spend €25 billion every year in Europe treating the damage it causes in terms of health. It costs another €8 billion a year through lost productivity through absenteeism and ill-health. Morally, ethically and financially, this is not an industry that should be supported.

I am keen during my period as Minister for Health to make a significant impact on the area of tobacco. The regulation of the tobacco industry and its sales promotion activities, as set out in this Bill, is just one of the ways I hope to achieve this. A comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation is already in place in Ireland, which places us in the top rank of countries internationally. These include the workplace smoking ban in 2004, the ban of the sale of packs of cigarettes of fewer than 20 and the ban on in-store display and advertising. I was very pleased to introduce regulations placing an obligation on tobacco manufacturers to include photographs on cigarette and tobacco packs. These images depict the negative health impacts associated with smoking. Research and experience in other countries has shown that health warnings with coloured photographs can be an effective means of discouraging smoking and informing people about the health risks. These packs have been on sale since February. The picture warnings, together with the retail point of sale display and advertising ban, will have a positive impact on reducing the numbers of young people starting to smoke. It is heartening to see that in a recent survey the number of children smoking fell from 18% to 12% from 2002 to 2010.

However, more needs to be done. No single measure will significantly reduce the numbers who smoke. A range of initiatives is required, including those I have already set out. I hope to publish a strategy in the near future which will set out a plan for Ireland to deal with the problem of smoking. This strategy will set out various actions, including improving cessation services, educational initiatives, tobacco price increases, extensions of the smoking ban and research. Protecting children and the denormalisation of tobacco in our society are the key principles underpinning these actions.

I have heard stories, as I am sure other Members have, of children running home to their parents in tears concerned about their parents because the teacher has told them people who smoke are going to die. The parents have to reassure them that will not happen. This demonstrates our adult behaviour is hugely influential on our children. The less they see adults smoking, the less likely they are to become smokers. I assure Senators that while this strategy is being finalised, we are already moving ahead in achieving our goal of a tobacco-free society. Significant work is being undertaken at present in many areas. This includes the valuable work of Senators Crown, van Turnhout and Daly in developing a Private Member's Bill to prohibit smoking in cars where children are present. A lot of work has been done on that and I am aware another meeting is to take place shortly. The Office of the Attorney General is making good progress on the various issues raised by the Bill. I fully support this Bill and my officials are working with the Senators to ensure that an effective and robust piece of legislation is developed. It must be robust because the industry will challenge it at every opportunity. I would like to reiterate that this legislation is not about restricting the rights of adults, but is about protecting the rights of children.

I plan, in the near future, to seek approval from my Cabinet colleagues to proceed with the drafting of legislation to introduce plain or generic tobacco packaging in Ireland. With the introduction of tobacco advertising and display bans, tobacco packaging has become the key promotional vehicle for the tobacco industry. My aim is to ensure that all forms of branding - trademarks, logos, colours and graphics - will be removed from packages, apart from the brand name. All packs will be in a plain neutral colour, except for the mandatory health warnings. The objective will be to make all tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers and to make health warnings more prominent. Ultimately, this will make tobacco products appear to be the harmful products they really are. Australia was the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging and has successfully defended a legal challenge in its high court. While there is not complete evidence that these warnings reduce smoking, there is evidence, from Canada in particular, that since the introduction of the pictorial warnings, there has been a fourfold increase in smokers wanting to give up their habit. As I said, no particular move will improve the situation, but a range of measures.

Knowing what we know, if there was a drug available tomorrow that could save 700,000 lives a year in Europe, we would all be screaming for it. There is a drug available in Europe that is killing 700,000 people a year and we should be doing everything in our power to stop people using it. I am not a Minister who is anti-smoker. I want to support smokers to get them off cigarettes. However, I am 100% anti-smoking. I ask Senators to support this Bill today and any future tobacco legislation brought through the Seanad.

12:05 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an tAire go dtí an Teach inniu chun plé a dhéanamh ar an Bhille tábhachtach seo a bhaineann le tobac agus caitheamh tobac.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill before the House and any measure the Minister will take to curb the prevalence of smoking or its consequences in society. Smoking is a curse on society. The Minister rightly pointed out that, unfortunately, the major companies manufacturing and promoting cigarettes are now targeting young people, and women in particular. The reason for this is that they have lost so many of their other customers. Cancer is a major scourge for our population. Professor Crown is our expert in the House in that regard. We all visit people when they are ill and have attended funerals when people have died. Unfortunately, the majority of these people die as a result of encountering cancer and having to battle with it at the end of their life. They get palliative care support, but smoking exacts its cost. We all remember the smoke-filled rooms of years ago when we attended political and community meetings. Whether people were smokers or not, they were smoking passively and we are now aware this has had a devastating effect on human health.

The smoking ban has been hugely successful since its introduction. While publicans were against it at the time, if they were asked about it today, they would be in favour of it. Talking to a colleague earlier, we recalled how if one was in a pub years ago, when one came out one's hair and clothes reeked of smoke. Thank God those days are in the past.

The Minister touched on the issue of brand monopoly. According to Bloomberg, the Marlboro brand company is worth €21 billion per year. It is the tenth biggest brand on the planet and has huge financial weight. However, we must deal with these companies and take them on. I fully support the Minister's aspiration to introduce universal plain packaging and hope he brings that to Cabinet in the near future, along with the hard-hitting message of the detrimental health impact of smoking on the package. Australia has done this very successfully. Researchers in the tobacco field show the companies are totally opposed to this and are targeting new smokers in countries where there is no universal packaging, including here in Ireland, where young people are being targeted through clever advertising.

The Minister drew our attention to the clever new packaging that is being used. The first time I saw such packaging at the supermarket counter - I am not a smoker - I thought the branding made it look like some form of lipstick tube, health food or supplement. These people, who have huge amounts of money, did not some up with such a clever approach on the spur of the moment. Governments need to be responsible. Along with my Fianna Fáil colleagues, I will support the Bill in question when it comes before the Oireachtas. The sooner it does, the better because we need to take on the vested interests in this sector properly.

The issues of the cost of tobacco and the money being made by tobacco companies arise in the context of the legislation we are discussing. The cost of cigarettes is approximately twice the EU average. People often bring cigarettes home with them when they go on holidays in Spain, Portugal and places like that. They can buy 200 cigarettes there for the price of 40 cigarettes in Ireland. Smokers might disagree with me when I say it is not a bad thing that cigarettes are so expensive here. Every time the level of tax on cigarettes in Ireland has been increased - I appreciate that the State generates a great deal of revenue through such measures - the companies have dovetailed with that to increase their profits. According to the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society, the tobacco sector's revenue on every packet of 20 cigarettes increased from €1 to €1.84 in the decade up to 2010. The companies are piggy-backing on what the State is doing. I encourage the Minister to examine this aspect of the matter. Some form of regulation or legislation is needed to prevent companies from piggy-backing on increases in the level of tax imposed on tobacco products.

If the Minister decides to introduce generic packaging that is light green, dark green or some other colour, I encourage him to include cigars and all other forms of tobacco in that regime. We should not confine our attention to cigarettes - we have to focus on every form of tobacco.

I think an educational campaign is needed, particularly in our primary schools. I know this is happening in some secondary schools. If teachers do not have the dedicated expertise to show young people the deadly effects of tobacco smoking, they should be supported in doing so. Believe it or not, tobacco companies are using their clever advertising to target children of primary school age. The Minister should work with his ministerial colleague in the Department of Education and Skills to target such practices through the school network and the education system as a whole. If that were done in an effective way, it would educate the next generation about the deadly effects of smoking tobacco products.

I could say much more on this issue. The Minister has articulated most of what needs to be said about the health effects of smoking. As a medical practitioner, he is familiar with those effects. I am sure he has seen many cases of people suffering from cancer, particularly lung cancer, as a result of smoking over a long number of years. As politicians, we have an obligation to protect the nation and to protect people against smoking. I agree with the Minister that we are anti-smoking rather than anti-smokers. I would subscribe to that. I have never smoked, but I have friends and family members who smoke. My younger brother who smokes was diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago. He would love to give up cigarettes if he could do so. When people get addicted to cigarettes, unfortunately they get a grip on them and form part of their daily lives. It is very difficult to give them up. We need to give serious consideration to ways of educating young people, showing them alternatives, assuring them that smoking is not a cool thing to do and reminding them that they should not follow their friends who might smoke. That would be very useful.

We are fully supportive of this short Bill. We look forward to the publication by the Minister of legislation on cigarette packaging. I encourage him to keep an eye on major companies that might seek to piggy-back on any decision to increase our tax revenues from cigarettes. That is exactly what they are doing. A cap needs to be placed on the profit they can make from every packet of cigarettes that is sold in our supermarkets.

The issue of contraband cigarettes, which are readily available, has not been mentioned during this debate. They come into this country through the North and other channels. They are sold on many streets in this country at heavily reduced prices. I am not sure how we can target this phenomenon. The State is losing substantial and serious revenue. The Criminal Assets Bureau, the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda Síochána are working to try to close the various loopholes that exist in this regard. I am not sure whether more can be done to that end. As the cigarettes that are coming into this country in this way contain all sorts of fillers, they are even worse than the cigarettes that are being sold in our shops. I am not sure how we can deal with this problem. Former members of certain parliamentary groups in the North are involved in this activity. This problem need to be targeted. The population needs to be educated about the consequences of products that are being sold under the counter.

12:15 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013, which has arisen on foot of the European Court of Justice ruling on minimum pricing. The Minister went through the figures. It is amazing that there has not been a substantial decrease, in real terms, in the number of people who smoke. We still seem to have a problem with people in the younger age group. They are continuing to support the trade of the tobacco companies despite the statistics mentioned by the Minister. Some 5,000 deaths a year are directly related to people smoking. Approximately 50% of all long-term smokers will die prematurely. That is a huge number in real terms when one considers the overall percentage of people in the country who are smokers.

When I did some reading on this issue, I was interested to find that in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, approximately 36,000 hospital admissions were directly related to people's smoking habits. I presume that annual figure has not really changed. Smoking is a huge drain on our medical services from general practitioner level right through to the hospital system. We have to do a great deal of work to try to reduce the number of smokers in this country. The Minister referred specifically to younger people in this context. I was interested to her somebody suggest that the slogan "kiss a smoker - taste the difference" should be used to discourage younger people from smoking. I am not sure whether it would work, but it might be a new and useful way of getting our message to young people.

I am awaiting the outcome of a study I commissioned to measure the responses of young people to the graphic images that are now being displayed on cigarette packets. International studies show that these images should have an effect. I decided to undertake a study of how young people in Ireland will react to them. I will be interested to see what the results of the survey will be. It is important for us to continue to support research aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke. As I said earlier during a debate on organ donation at the Joint Committee on Health and Children, there is a huge need for a public awareness campaign in relation to these matters. Over a ten-year period, a very proactive road safety campaign brought about some very good results. We probably need to review how we are managing our campaign aimed at discouraging people from smoking. We need to continue to research how we can ensure there is a reduction in the number of people starting to smoke. Equally, we need to help those who smoke to move away from their problems. As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, it is not easy for anyone who smokes to move away from cigarettes. It is a huge task and a huge obstacle for them.

We should be doing everything possible to provide those people with the varied medical assistance they need.

With regard to the court decision, it was interesting to read:

...the Court adds that the prohibition on fixing minimum prices does not prevent Member States from prohibiting the sale of manufactured tobacco at a loss, so long as the freedom of manufacturers or importers to determine the maximum retail selling prices for their products is not undermined. Those economic actors will not be able, in that case, to absorb the impact of the taxes on those prices by selling their products at a price below the sum of the cost price and all taxes.
While the European Court of Justice states we cannot impose minimum prices, we can make sure we prohibit the sale of manufactured tobacco at a loss, which is important.

The figures on the amount of tobacco coming in from abroad are interesting, with some 6% of the market accounted for by legal cross-border purchases and 14% by illegal sales. It is an area we really need to tackle and every assistance should be given to the Garda and the Revenue authorities to ensure the amount of cigarettes on the market illegally is reduced considerably.

I recently spoke to a medical practitioner who was holding a high-risk pregnancy clinic and was astonished to find the high level of smoking among people who were pregnant. In fact, one patient acknowledged she had reduced smoking from 300 cigarettes a week to 200. The issue here is the danger caused to the foetus in the long term. We need a campaign in this area given that there are still a high number of women who continue to smoke while pregnant, despite all the warnings. It is interesting how those patients end up having to be dealt with in the high-risk clinics.

I welcome the Bill and I know the Minister has a number of other Bills in this area coming down the road. They will certainly receive the support of this House because anything we can do to help reduce the number of people who are smoking in this country is welcome, and it also helps to reduce the overall cost of the health budget in the coming years.

12:25 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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Ba mhaith liom trí noimead a thabhairt don Seanadóir Norris.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his continued professional and political attention to the scourge and evils of smoking. I believe he is a committed campaigner toward the goal of making Ireland a tobacco-free society. Like those of us who have been privileged to be members of our profession and other caring health professions, we do tend to get a different perspective on the reality of the evil that is this industry. It is an evil industry and we need to call it what it is. At no level within our body politic, be it local government, national Government, Legislature, Civil Service or the EU, should we in any sense be engaging with the tobacco industry. We should see it as an industry that needs to be stamped out completely, 100%. We should put it on notice that it is our intention to make the activity which it does completely and comprehensively illegal within a meaningful timeframe. This is why a number of us are in the early stages of a campaign called SOS 2030, the goal of which is to persuade the European powers that they need to adopt this as a fundamental principle within the appropriate timeframe. This is not crazy, bomb-throwing radicalism. We are saying they have 15 or 16 years to teach the farmers to grow something else, get the pension funds to invest in something else, get the factories to retool and tell the shopkeepers they had better sell something else because, after 2030, if someone wants to sell tobacco, they will be doing it on the same legal basis as the Cali cartel sell their products - it will be illegal.

Some will say there are precedents for prohibition having not worked. We are not advocating the prohibition of the practice or the growth of tobacco. What we are advocating is the prohibition of commerce in tobacco. People may have a civil right to smoke or to grow a tobacco plant in their back garden and roll their own cigarettes, but no one has an innate civil right to profit from cancer-causing addictive drugs. When I talk of the tobacco industry, I include everything from the mom and pop shop on the corner in the suburbs of Dublin, Cork or Abbeyfeale to the people in the boardrooms of RJR or British American Tobacco and the people who own the vast plantations in Virginia or Turkey. Let us face it, the business plan of the entire tobacco industry can be summed up in four words: addict children to carcinogens. If they do not do it, the business ceases to exist. If anyone tells me there is any civil, human or legal right to that, they are clearly incorrect. This is why I am delighted to have the Minister as our leader in many of our smoking initiatives. On behalf of Senators Daly and van Turnhout, I am grateful for his confirmed and explicit commitment today to ensuring the passage of our own little practical step along this way by banning smoking in cars with children.

While I can be very supportive of what the Minister is doing, I hear a noise in the Chamber today. It is a grinding noise and I think it is the noise of gritted teeth. I can only presume the Minister is not happy he has been handed the chalice of passing this particular legislation by the European Commission. I am less bound by the conventions of party loyalty and diplomacy than he is, so I will say what I think. This stinks.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I cannot believe that anybody at a European level would come out with this ruling. I know our Fianna Fáil colleagues have said they will support it. I believe we should make a symbolic rejection of this Bill, not for the positive public health matters, which are encouraging - and we will attempt to amend it to within an inch of its life if it gets to Committee Stage - but to send a message to the EU that something stinks about this. How could anybody in their right mind actually try to make it easier for people to engage in a cheap price war on behalf of tobacco products? How could they do this? Unless I am really, as George Bush would say, misunderestimating what is in this thing, it seems to me we are basically being forced to be complicit in the making of a bad decision to the benefit of the tobacco industry, which should be our unambiguous sworn enemy.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is almost up.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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In that case, I will conclude. Is the Minister personally satisfied with the integrity of the decision making process in the EU on this issue? I can tell him something stinks to the high heavens about this.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am very honoured to speak after Senator Crown. We are delighted he took the trouble to come direct from the airport, despite probably being jet-lagged, to speak here so passionately. He said what I had decided myself to say. I think this is appalling legislation. The Minister has done a little bit of tweaking to make it appear acceptable through cosmetic measures and I am not going to go back over the statistics as the Minister has passionately laid them out. This is something that kills. It is bad for us, I know, because I am a sometime smoker. Luckily, although I have an addictive personality, I do not seem to be addicted to nicotine. I can smoke for a couple of days and then give it up for a month or three months. I am now not going to ever-----

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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On a point of order, I believe the Senator is addicted to nicotine.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Maybe I am.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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It is an addiction.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Fine. I would like to say that it is disgraceful, corrupt and criminal that these people deliberately target young people - the vulnerable - but it is not just young people. They go out Africa and to South America - they go to people who have no defences. These are people with their headquarters in the United States and in Europe and they must be confronted.

I am appalled by the court's ruling, which I believe is disgraceful, wrong and, in some measure - possibly even morally, if not in any other sense - corrupt.

Our Constitution puts as the primary plank the public good. This is probably unconstitutional. How in the name of God can it be for the public good that we allow this competitive selling of cigarettes? Is there a mechanism whereby one can shove up the tax if they dare to lower the price? We should shove the tax up immediately by regulation. Perhaps the Minister could talk to the Minister for Finance to see if that can be done. Politically, it may be less than popular. The Minister said he had completed the first step in complying with the court ruling. To hell with them. They have not been our friends either in bankrupting this country or, now, in forcing ill-health upon our citizens. Removing the legal basis for the fixing of a minimum price is a yielding of sovereignty.

I believe much of this stuff is just cosmetic. For example, the Minister talks about the prohibition of the promotion and sale of tobacco products at a reduced price, free of charge with the purchase of another tobacco product or under three-for-two arrangements. Can the Minister show me one shop in the entire country that has ever done this? I asked my colleague, Senator Quinn, whether he had ever come across this and the answer was "No". This is just a bit of cosmetic stuff to say that we are barricading this, that or the other. It is rubbish. This is a nonsense. It means nothing. The Minister referred to "happy hour"-type promotions.

12:35 pm

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is up.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is a complete nonsense. I will certainly oppose the Bill and will be back here to vote against it, although not out of any sense of antagonism. I understand the Minister feels his hands are tied, but it is a disgraceful decision. What are these people in the court doing? It is not in the interests of people. It was the same with this ridiculous equality-based rubbish about gender weighting in the car insurance industry. God knows, my reputation on gender equality could not very well be impugned. The court is behaving in an insane fashion that is detrimental to the public good and must be challenged.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I note his obvious determination to deal with this public health matter, which is also a private health challenge, and restrict, reduce or prevent smoking. To use the Minister's own words, to wage war on this product is commendable. This level of determination is welcome but will, unfortunately, be necessary. He painted a very powerful image in his speech when he said that the customers of the tobacco industry die younger and in greater numbers than the population at large and that in order for the industry to sustain its level of profit, it must find replacement customers. This is a terrible, stark image. The replacement of customers comes from the deliberate and specific targeting of our children. The Minister held up some packages a while ago. I was not even aware of this practice. It is remarkably deceptive, sophisticated, subtle and insidious. This is what we are dealing with. If we attack it head-on in the manner that many people are prescribing we will not really deal with the issue, because we must attack it on several fronts. As well as highlighting the danger associated with the product, we must also move to some sort of cultural change whereby the use of tobacco products is not seen as cool any more.

The Minister will come across some people, in this battle, who will be opposed to the steps he is taking. They will put up arguments about freedom of choice and how we are all adults. The tobacco industry will look on those advocates in the same way as Stalin looked upon the crazier Communist states. He called them "useful idiots". The tobacco industry will look on advocates who make those arguments in a similar fashion.

Sometimes the directives we receive from Europe throw up some very strange situations, bedfellows or positions. Policy objectives in one area sometimes appear to contradict those in another area. This certainly seems to be one such conflict coming from the European Court of Justice - public health versus competition law. I see Senator Norris's argument, although I do not fully understand it. It is similar to several other arguments in law where one can see that the legislation under which the challenge has been brought very often determines the result or priority attaching to the ruling in one area as opposed to another. I have seen it in this country. If one was to bring in legislation dealing with gender equality versus health and safety, very often, a court could come down on one side and those on the opposite side of the argument would feel there was something wrong with the judgement, and perhaps there would be. That is the nature of the judicial process. I do not think there is a conspiracy. Maybe there is but I cannot see it here. I think it is the way the judicial process grinds on in its inordinate fashion.

I commend the Minister on moving to ensure this Bill will bring a sense of policy consistency into the area. It is about time we had it. It is a very short Bill, consisting of three sections. The Minister outlined what those three sections contain in his speech so I do not intend to repeat it. I used to smoke up to about two years ago. Since then, I have taken up jogging. One might not think that to look at me, but I have. When I am scaring the dogs on the back roads of Cork with my puffing and panting, it is not the cigarettes that are causing it. It might be the few extra pounds of weight I am carrying but I would not have thought of going jogging two years ago when I was smoking. These are benefits that I have gained and I am sure many people in my position, at my age and with my physique would also benefit from them. I will say no more about it. We will talk about it again on Committee Stage. It would be remarkable if we could find any amendments to put forward at that stage but we will wait and see. I again commend the Minister. Anything he wishes to do to prevent new customers - our children, in other words - from taking up cigarettes will have my support and the support of the Labour Party. I urge the House to fully accept and embrace what the Minister intends to do.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Senator White is next on the roster, but she is unavailable, so I will take Senator Barrett, who has five minutes.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister. We always have great debates when he comes to this House. There may be some useful points on minimum pricing. I accept what Senators Norris and Crown have said. Minimum pricing enriches the people doing the minimum pricing. I understand the Minister for Finance, the Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform and the OPW and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would be delighted to have more tax revenue. I agree with the Senators who said it is a very strange imposition of competition policy to have competition in products that, as the Minister so eloquently put it, damage people. It might be important, because there are also voices saying that the Minister should think of minimum pricing for alcohol, and some of them are in the alcohol industry. Some producers like minimum pricing. That we can drive down prices and give them less, even in this heinous industry, is the grain of consolation I see in the court decision. In response to Senator Crown, action on smoking in cars should have been much quicker. Senator Crown proposed that measure to protect children in cars going on holidays with their parents last summer and I do not know the reason for the delay.

The Minister should examine duty-free return of tobacco. As our very helpful research services show, we quite rightly have an extremely high price for cigarette products and people bring them back by the cartload through Dublin Airport and other airports. This is damaging, and must undo much of the work the Minister is trying so valiantly to do. I do not know whether it contradicts our European obligations, but this should be considered in terms of dealing with it as a health issue, and we should aim to bring the price of tobacco products people bring back into this country up to the Irish retail price. As other speakers have said, we sometimes get fairly strange decisions from Europe. One speaker mentioned the gender equality ruling that will result in women, who are safer drivers, being charged more for car insurance on the grounds that it makes them equal with dangerous male drivers. That is a very strange definition of equality. The design faults in the euro itself have cost this country billions, so we must examine what comes from Europe rather than always touching the forelock.

We need research on the reasons people take up smoking. We have run the smoking information campaigns but we need to get into the psychology of young people who take up smoking as a way of appearing to be mature. Will the Minister consider interviewing people whose smoking has brought therm to the point of exit from this world? Let the real story be told. Let us interview people who will no longer be alive in a few months time because of smoking. I recall being in Howth with a dear friend, who was a heavy smoker. He could walk down the hill of Howth but it took ages to walk back up it. Let us put the truth about this dreadful product before young people.

The measures against smuggling are absolutely essential. I see, and I am sure the Minister does see, these products on sale widely. I wonder if some of the victims would take court cases against the tobacco companies, as they do in the United States, as this would take some of the load off the Minister's shoulders. Very successful cases have been taken in the American jurisdiction against the industry for selling narcotics branded to persuade people they will become a better cowboy or a more beautiful film star. Let us go for the reality. There are cases pending against the health service in cases in which people believe there has been malpractice, however, as the Minister said, this must be one of the greatest malpractices.

I note the Minister has raised the issue of plain packaging. Are we carrying community rating on health insurance excessively when we do not allow a discount for not smoking. I am aware the Minister is looking at the health insurance sector. I recall a very eminent colleague who actually told people that he could not go ahead with the expensive operation because the patient was smoking in the room and all the medical expense and all the expertise would be undone by a person continuing to smoke. I do not know whether he ever carried out that threat or promise. Taking such action would bring across from medicine how appalling people find smoking. I asked Professor Shane Allwright in TCD who has done a lot of work on this issue and she welcomes the Minister's anti-promotions section. Sometimes I think the European Court should think about what it is legitimising. Minimum pricing may have made the sellers' role more profitable. Let us get at them by reducing their profitability. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, would be delighted to hear of proposal to increase taxation as he needs the revenue.

12:45 pm

Photo of Jimmy HarteJimmy Harte (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I know he is passionate about this subject as any medical practitioner would be. What would we think about manufacturing a product and following the instructions which guarantee that it will kill people early or destroy their quality of life? The costs resulting from tobacco are phenomenal. I suppose in a couple of hundred years, the next civilisation will look back and question how it was legal to sell items that would kill people. There is no other benefit from cigarettes. It damages people's lungs and arteries and results in collateral damage to the family and increases the cost of the health service. People will question why people smoked. No matter how one looks at this issue, the evidence is against cigarettes.

I know the research in Australia shows that if people do not smoke by the age of 26 years there is a 99% chance that they will never smoke, which ties in with Senator O'Donnell's point on education. Education is so important. I do not smoke. I have never smoked but my wife smoked for a while. However, my daughter, who is seven, thinks that smoking is bad. When people reach the age of 14 or 15 years, their attitude to smoking changes. Perhaps it is a result of watching old films. Smoking was a normal part of life in the 1960s and early 1970s, as shown in "Mad Men", but there must be an input to combat this idea in primary and secondary level education rather than after leaving education. There is a great deal of emphasis on packaging. By the time the packaging comes out the people are hooked or they have had subliminal advertising from Hollywood films. I grew up at a time when it was normal to smoke and most people smoked - starting at the age of ten or 12 years. The damage is immense.

I congratulate the previous Government, and the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, for introducing the smoking ban. I have said it before, we were lucky that Fianna Fáil was in power at the time of the introduction of this ban because if other parties in government introduced it, the people leading the publicans down the main streets of every town would be the Fianna Fáil Party members, because the publicans are a strong lobby. I am sure that Members were lobbied by publicans who stated that a ban on smoking would be the end of their business. In fairness, Deputy Micheál Martin did stand up to that lobby and that legislation has been a major factor in reducing the incidence of cancer. The causes of cancer and the cost of treating it are really appreciable.

I worked in insurance, and when people looking for life insurance stated they were smokers, the rate increased dramatically. There is no argument against an actuary who states that people are more likely to die earlier because they smoke. We are probably ahead of the European countries and we are definitely ahead of the Third World and Asian countries which still promote cigarettes as a source of revenue. Many Asian countries would be copying the American way. Recently I was in Taiwan and one of the problems in that country is that the cost of cigarettes is cheaper than in Europe but they are reluctant to increase the cost because of the revenue generated for the country from the sale of cigarettes. We are leading the charge on tobacco products.

The Minister referred to the advertising introduced in Australia on 1 January and they have been proactive, even though the problem there is not major. I hope the measures being introduced by this Bill will be supported by all Members. In the coming centuries people will appreciate the legislation. I hope we will have a healthier nation and I hope that cigarettes will be eradicated from society in the next century.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I intended to rise to support the Bill, but having listened to Senators Crown, Norris and Barrett they have challenged my analysis of the proposed legislation. I will listen to the Minister's response before I make up my mind. The Bill has two primary functions, the first is that it provides the Minister with additional powers to combat the promotion of tobacco products. Any measures taken to ensure the advertising and sale of tobacco and tobacco products are restricted are supported fully by my party and me.

I have very deep reservations about the element of the Bill that relates to European law, about which Senator Crown spoke. l will develop that point later.

The aim of the additional powers that have been given to the Minister is to ensure that tobacco products will not be available at a reduced price or for free when people purchase another tobacco product or any other product or service. This allows the Minister to control and regulate the promotion of tobacco products through special offers whereby they are offered free or at reduced prices together with other products. This follows on from the legislation put in place in July 2009, to prohibit all point of sale advertising in retail outlets. This required the storage of tobacco products out of sight of the customer.

Ensuring that tobacco is not available cheaply is very important to deter smoking. Sinn Féin supports this policy. Senators Norris and Crown referred to these provisions as being somewhat cosmetic, covering up the fact that the real substance of the Bill is to deal with the areas which relate to European law. I am not sure if this is the case but I will listen with interest to the Minister's response. I share the concerns of the Senators about those provisions relating to EU law. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, highlighted his disquiet about these aspects. While he signalled that the party would not be opposing the Bill on that basis, it underlines the many difficulties this State faces due to the increasing encroachment of the EU and EU law on all areas of our sovereignty.

This Bill amends existing legislation to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling that the setting of minimum prices for tobacco in this State is in breach of EU law. Our legislation required that the retail price of cigarettes be at least 97% of a weighted average, based on sales of each brand the previous year and the recommended retail price. This was covered under provisions of the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Act 1978 and the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002. However, I understand that under EU competition law, this is not allowed and manufacturers and importers must be free to set their own prices for their products. Our policy in this area is sensible and prudent. It cleaves to the aim of seeking to deter tobacco smoking, particularly among the young. Therefore, it is regrettable that this has been struck down as being contrary to European law.

We will take the opportunity to record our unhappiness at the way in which this directive has been applied. The EU Directorate General for Competition is massively influential and powerful within EU structures. The ideology associated with competition being a wholly positive influence has permeated the EU at all levels. Many are unwilling to consider its ill effects, many of which are economic ill effects. However, in this case, it is one of infringement in the area of public health considerations.

Many will make the point that we can continue to tax as we please, and this is true. However, it will not always be correct as there is a strong lobby within Europe, particularly among federalists, for tax harmonisation. In those circumstances, there will be an impact on our tobacco pricing policies. We are opposed to the implementation of this directive but we accept that it is something over which these Houses do not have control.

I support the Bill but I will listen to the Minister's response before I make up my mind.

12:55 pm

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the content of the Bill. I appreciate that the European framework and legislation make it difficult for the Minister and will raise challenges in the future as to how the Department and the Government continue the battle against smoking. The Minister has always been passionate on this topic and this comes from personal experience. We are spending €2 billion a year in combating the effects of smoking, and that is a lot of money. I would prefer to see this money being spent on education, prevention and smoking cessation measures. The Minister hopes to develop a policy on those matters in the near future.

The public consultation committee of this House sat recently. One of the topics raised was the need for further and more effective smoking cessation programmes. I attended the launch of the Healthy Ireland framework, which deals with smoking. One in every two smokers dies from smoking-related illnesses. The Minister has no choice but to do everything in his power to fight this battle - and it is a battle - because the very powerful tobacco companies have massive funds and they have longevity on their side. They have been promoting cigarette smoking for a long time. Cigarettes are part of the way we live, on sale in shops and in places where we do business every day. It is very difficult to change overnight something that is woven into the fabric of our world.

This Bill is one small step against special offers such as three for two. It is a welcome initiative, as was the change in packaging. The Minister is correct to say that his Department will need to be vigilant about how manufacturers and retailers will try to continue to sell tobacco. It is good to see that the number of child smokers is decreasing, but it is still very high at 12%. As a GP, the Minister will agree that it is terrible that young children are smoking. Their later health will be compromised due to the emergence of diabetes and heart conditions which we know are preventable. The challenges for public health are obesity and smoking. This Bill is a tiny but welcome piece of the jigsaw.

I would love to see some of the expenditure that is needed to look after those who are suffering the ill effects of smoking being spent instead on education so that we are not relying solely on photographs on cigarette packs. Children need to be educated to understand the dangers of smoking. The Cabinet committee on social policy is the committee responsible for ensuring that the Healthy Ireland framework is implemented. There is much work to be done. We should declare war on the tobacco lobby. We should say that we will defy any actions to promote and pursue the sale of tobacco in this country. It is a difficult task, because smoking cigarettes is endemic, but we have to stand up to these activities. The tobacco companies have lots of money and deep pockets. The Minister knows the figures. I welcome the Bill as a small piece of a jigsaw. I ask if the Minister has any influence over online selling of tobacco products, which is not included in this Bill.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Darragh O'Brien.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister stated that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland. Each year, more than 5,200 Irish people die prematurely from diseases caused by tobacco use. A total of 700,000 Europeans die annually from tobacco-related illnesses.

The Minister reminded us that tobacco is one of the most addictive drugs. I gave up smoking cigarettes 30 years ago. Like 99% of smokers, I found it very difficult to give up because nicotine is a very serious addiction. The tobacco companies that produce these products will need to be regarded as pariahs by society. The Minister must target children in school and explain to them how addictive nicotine is. We have not spoken about that aspect. I eventually underwent cold turkey in order to stop smoking. All the talk about giving up smoking does not address how difficult it is to give it up. I listened to Senator Crown and Senator Norris. Senator Crown spoke about his work in treating cancer.

Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

Senator David Norris spoke about civil rights and the intervention of the European Union. I am a supporter of the Minister, but having listened to the expert, we cannot support the Bill.

1:05 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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What is important in any democracy is that one listens to debate. I listened with interest to the argument of Senators David Norris and John Crown in this regard which can be teased out further on Committee and Report Stages. For the reasons outlined by Senators David Norris, John Crown and Mary White, we will oppose the Bill on Second Stage.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I left the House during the Minister's opening contribution to meet approximately 40 students from a school in the area in which I live. I was delighted to have the opportunity to quote the Minister and Senator Mary White has just spoken about there being 5,000 deaths. We were always told tobacco was addictive and knew this from a very early age. People say they did not realise it was addictive, but I certainly knew it was. I wanted to get on the rugby team and knew when I was 13 or 14 years of age that if I smoked, I was unlikely to get on it. The vast majority of youngsters who smoke claim they do not know how bad it is and we must do something to overcome this. However, I have a problem with automatically increasing the price because each time we do so, we encourage smuggling. Given that there is so much smuggling of illegal cigarettes, we need to find a better way.

If we are really serious about dissuading people from smoking, should we ban smoking in schools and educational establishments, as has been done in Denmark? That would include teachers and students. The idea is not to smoke in front of students. It would be worthwhile considering this suggestion. Denmark also significantly increased fines for breaking the smoking law and selling tobacco to youths under 18 years of age. I am not sure what the situation here is and whether there are serious fines in that regard. In Denmark, in the case of a first offence, the fine is approximately €700; in the case of a second offence, it is €1,400 and in the case of a third offence, it is €2,100. Perhaps we should also significantly increase fines imposed for this offence.

Last year Senator John Crown proposed banning smoking in cars carrying children, but should we not ban smoking in cars entirely? In certain countries it has been found that smoking can be a contributory factor in car accidents. To this extent, smoking in cars is now banned in Italy, as it has been found that if a smoker drops a cigarette or throws a cigarette out a window and it blows back in and he or she starts to look for it in the car, it can cause an accident and even result in death. There are fines and penalty points for someone found smoking in his or her car. As we have banned the use of mobile phones in cars as they are a distraction, should we not consider banning smoking cigarettes also? That is a very important issue to be considered, especially when considered with the harmful effects on children. The issue should be considered as we are discussing how to reduce the harmfulness of smoking.

I refer to politics and tobacco lobbyists. On a philosophical level, should we look at the relationship between alcohol and tobacco and politics? We know about the link with sports, which is not often mentioned. In Australia the New South Wales state parliament recently passed legislation banning donations to political parties from the alcohol, gaming and tobacco industries. I am not sure if any money is given to political parties here by alcohol or tobacco companies, but we need to make things clear. Could we, as politicians, send a strong message by formally breaking the link between the tobacco industry and the lobbyists and the political system?

There are things we could do. I know what the Minister is attempting to do, but I support Senator John Crown whom I regard as an expert in this area. I am aware of his frustration that we are doing away with minimum pricing because we are being forced to do so by the European Court of Justice's ruling, but there must be steps we could take. I have never seen three-for-two, happy hour or buy-one-get-one free tobacco promotions, as there would not be the margin to do it. However, there must be other things we could do. We have a strong message to send. The Minister's heart is in the right place and we will support him in any way we can.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senators for their support in the battle against tobacco. I understand the sentiments expressed about the European Court of Justice's ruling. In my opening contribution I alluded to the fact that I had asked my Department to investigate how we could amending the directive - in other words, change the legislation - in order that it did not apply to matters of public health, which clearly would be in the common good.

There is no need for me to rehash what we have said about the damage this product causes to people and the fact that the industry focuses on children, which is particularly disgraceful. I acknowledge the dissatisfaction expressed about the ending of the minimum pricing of cigarettes. I know Senators understand Ireland has an obligation to comply with this decision. We are bound by the European Court of Justice's ruling; there is not an á la carte menu available. As Ireland is bound by the legislation in Europe, the way to tackle this issue is to go through the legislative process to try to get support in Europe for this approach.

The tobacco directive is going through the European Union. It is one of the main planks of our Presidency and I want to see it progressed. We are gathering support for it, but some countries have very strong tobacco lobbyists and industries and we will meet resistance. For instance, it was made very clear to me that if I went for plain packaging in the directive, it would not get through, but I want to bring that in here and have given an undertaking to that effect. I hope to bring a memorandum to the Government in the next few weeks to seek support for this.

The directive is very important because it refers to the percentage of a pack that can be given over to the health warning and pictures. It also refers to flavourings. Commissioner Tonio Borg has made the point that tobacco should look like tobacco and also taste like it. Adding menthol and other flavourings to disguise the bad taste does a disservice. Sometimes the human body has an innate ability to avoid danger and taste is one method by which it does so. Pure tobacco tastes bad because, as we know, it is. Why should we allow the industry to disguise the nature of its product in the way it advertises, packages or flavours it?

I have no objection to the sentiments expressed by Senators in terms of sending a message to the European Union that we find this ruling extremely difficult to understand, that it runs counter to the common good, that it allows commercial enterprise to supersede the well-being of people and that it pushes forward a theory that there is a choice to be made between jobs and lives when it does not have to be this way. As I have pointed out and Senator John Crown re-emphasised, we should encourage people into other industries which do not carry such catastrophic consequences for the children whom they are trying to get to use their product and the citizen of Europe.

Many Senators repeated the well established link between price and cigarette consumption. As I said, there are 5,200 deaths per year in this country which are attributable to smoking. That works out at a figure of 100 citizens each week, including friends and family members. I lost a brother who was a doctor - an epidemiologist - who had studied the tobacco industry, had much information on what it was at and how it was striving to reach nirvana where following the consumption of one 20-pack, one would be addicted. So strong was his addiction that he kept smoking even until the day he died.

We must protect our children and I know that everybody in the House agrees. I must apply the law and that is why I must introduce the Bill. I have said in the other Chamber, and I shall say it again here, I intend to make this a pyrrhic victory for the tobacco industry. It might have a slight smile on its face but it will be nothing when compared with the moans and groans it will endure under this Government and for as long as I am Minister for Health.

More than 5,200 people die prematurely each year which is 19% of all deaths here. We know that one in two smokers will die from their smoking habit. Smoking is lethal and the Government must and will act. I shall repeat a point that I have made on several occasions. I have never met a smoker who wanted his or her child to smoke. Not even the representative of the smoking industry at the European hearings by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, ENVI, was prepared to do so. He said that he did but he certainly did not say that he wanted his children to smoke.

Forest is an organisation that represents smokers but its use of the term is cynical. Forests are the lungs of the world but the organisation promotes a habit that wrecks lungs, lives and the environment.

It is heartening that research shows that the number of children smoking has reduced but I accept that we must do a lot more. The younger people are when they start smoking the longer and more heavily they are likely to smoke. We know that the majority of smokers became addicted in childhood and I mentioned a survey revealed that it was 78%, a fact worth repeating.

The introduction of warning pictures on packets and the ban on displaying products in shops will, in my view, have a significant impact on young people in the long term. The plain packaging of tobacco packets is another initiative that will assist in making smoking less attractive to children. Offering a cigarette from a plain packet, even if one is a child, means that any child with two eyes in their head will wonder about cigarettes. They will decide that they do not want to look cool and end up with a disease.

All of the little things that we do to tackle the problem will give us what we all want, a tobacco-free society. De-normalising smoking will play a great part in achieving same. The strategy that is being finalised in my Department will strive to achieve such a society.

We have already discussed the introduction of the smoking ban in cars when children are present. We know the initiative is about protecting the health of children, not infringing the rights of people. Other initiatives include banning smoking in playgrounds, sports stadia and other places where children and young people congregate. I congratulate and acknowledge those who have already taken steps in this regard. Many local authorities, including Fingal in my constituency, have made the decision to ban smoking in public playgrounds. The Aviva Stadium is part of the European healthy stadia network and operates a no smoking policy. The HSE is rolling out its tobacco-free campus policy with a view to having it operating on all sites by 2015.

Let us think of the unintended consequences of actions. A ban on smoking in hospitals has resulted in people standing at the front door of the premises acting like an advertisement hoarding when sick people enter. An alternative smoking area should be provided off campus where smoking is allowed.

I understand how difficult it is to stop smoking as I used to smoke. Luckily, like Senator Norris, I was not as heavily addicted to smoking as two members of my family. They smoked two cigarettes each before having breakfast.

The illicit trading of cigarettes was mentioned. From a public health perspective, it is my job to prevent people from smoking cigarettes whether they are legal or illegal. The bottom line is, tackling the illicit trade of tobacco directly rests with the Revenue Commissioners. It is an enforcement issue. The Revenue Commissioners attaches a high priority to combatting smuggling and the illegal sale of tobacco products. It is implementing its comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. In 2012 nearly 96 million cigarettes and 5,000 kg of tobacco were seized and there were 132 convictions for the smuggling of illegal cigarettes or the illegal sale of tobacco. Therefore, we should not allow the illicit trade of tobacco to become an obstacle or an argument against the introduction of public health tobacco policies and legislation. Successful public health policies and strategies for tackling illicit trade can operate effectively side by side and one is never an excuse for the other.

I have said on record before that I would love to see cigarettes cost €1 each so people would think long and hard before inhaling. It has been shown elsewhere that people are price sensitive. A lot of prices are introduced incrementally but a sudden shock increase would make many people stop and think about smoking.

So many of the legislative measures that we have undertaken have put us to the fore internationally. I acknowledge one of my predecessors, Deputy Micheál Martin, who introduced the smoking ban. Many of the measures were facilitated by developments at European level. It is important that our tobacco policy and legislative framework continues to develop within the context of a European Commission.

I shall return to a key point made by Senators. I want to change the law rather than break it and that shall be the focus of the tobacco unit in my Department. I welcome the Tobacco Product Directive. I know that it shall not be as easy to progress as Senators may think because many forces are at play. As I spoke, I was reminded of an episode of the "Yes, Prime Minister" television series that was devoted to banning smoking. I am confident that the outcome of the revision of the directive, together with the publication of the tobacco strategy, will go a significant way in moving us towards a tobacco free society.

Senator Barrett and other Senators spoke about driving down profit. I agree with them that we should do everything that we can to drive down profit while driving up the price.

A couple of other issues were raised. The HSE is still running two successful campaigns and the number of calls to its helpline has greatly increased in the past number of months.

Senators Norris, Crown, Quinn and other Senators alluded to the fact that they have never seen three-for-one promotions. They have not because such promotion has never been necessary. As opportunities to sell tobacco products diminish further the Senators can be damn sure that the industry will explore every avenue to promote their products. I do not want to see a large multiple advertising a promotion offering customers 20 free cigarettes with every €100 worth of groceries. The legislation will prevent such promotions.

Very often we are reactive rather than proactive. The Bill is proactive and will send a message to the industry. I am aware that the Office of Tobacco Control was broken into in Europe. The perpetrators scaled down the building from the roof, cut holes in the glass, entered the premises and stole hard drives from computers but from that office only. Ceist beag de gach éinne anseo, who has the money, the sophistication and the motivation to carry out such an operation?

In conclusion, I am not pleased that we must reduce minimum pricing for tobacco products. I am concerned that it makes our issues surrounding the minimum pricing of alcohol very difficult. I shall seek support in Europe to amend the legislation that underpins this decision so that it does not apply to areas of public health and the common good. I ask Senators to support the Bill because we must act within the law. I understand the sentiment behind the Senators who called for us to send a message. I commend the Bill to the House.

1:15 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 18.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.

Question declared carried.

1:25 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 24 April 2013.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 April.