Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Adjournment Debate

Tobacco Control Measures

4:40 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I would like to share time with Senator Crown if that is acceptable.

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

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I have raised the issue of the sale of tobacco in this House previously and this Government has demonstrated its dedication to dealing with the scourge of tobacco smoking. The Minister for Health and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, whom I welcome to the House, are committed to dealing with this. As part of my other profession I run a shop and I tend to know what the cigarette companies are up to, probably sooner than everybody else. I highlighted in this House how these companies were offering financial incentives to young staff in shops to promote branded cigarettes. I have discovered that this has not been happening since I highlighted it.

I am, however, greatly troubled by promotional material from one of the major cigarette companies offering packs of 25 cigarettes. Originally they were sold in tens and 20s until the ten packs were banned. The cigarette companies have very cleverly developed a 23 pack and now a 25 pack which they sell for less than €10. Per cigarette the price has been reduced. This is a very clever tactic for reducing the price of cigarettes. I want the Government immediately to ban the 25 and 23 packs or else ban 20 packs and introduce one pack with a single quantity, whether 20 or 25. I do not want the Government to wait to do this. It is within the Minister's power to ban this immediately, to issue a directive to the cigarette companies that they can sell only one packet of cigarettes with a particular dedicated quantity.

Senator Crown has been very active in the anti-tobacco campaign and highlighting the health issues surrounding tobacco use. I am very grateful to him for participating in this debate and I am glad to give him some of my time.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I am very grateful to my friend and colleague, Senator Conway, for giving me a moment to speak. I am very supportive of his efforts and request. We must understand that on no level is the tobacco industry collectively our partner. It is on every level the adversary of good governance and good public policy. It is us versus them - we "ain’t" partners on this. Senator Conway deserves great credit for highlighting this really sneaky marketing effort on the industry's part to try to circumvent several regulations related to tobacco. I was not aware of this. I warmly commend his efforts and I hope that the Minister of State is able to follow his advice that there be one standard pack size. Ultimately, we are hoping that by 2030 there will no standard pack size legally available.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue. My Department, in consultation with the HSE, is continuously monitoring the ever-evolving market tactics of the tobacco industry. As these evolve so too must our legislation and policy framework. I appreciate the Senator's bringing this new development to our attention. As the Senator may be aware the European Court of Justice ruling has obliged us to cease the practice of placing a minimum price on tobacco products and to amend our legislation in this regard. The Public Health (Tobacco)(Amendment) Act 2013, however, allows for the regulation of various promotional devices used by the tobacco industry.

While the Senator is right to be concerned at the introduction of these new packs of 23 and 25 cigarettes, the main issue of concern to the Minister is preventing people and especially young people starting to smoke. The ban on the sale of packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes was introduced as a measure to deter children and young people from smoking. A combination of measures is required in order to make an impact on the numbers smoking in Ireland. These include raising awareness, education, price increases, developing legislation related to tobacco products and to smoke-free measures. It also includes support and services for those who want to escape nicotine addiction. These measures are aimed at saving lives and not interfering with smokers' rights.

One in two of all long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease. A comprehensive range of tobacco legislation is in place in Ireland which places us in the top rank of countries internationally. Some of these significant initiatives include: a ban on in-store display and advertising; a ban on self-service vending machines except in licensed premises; a ban on the sale of tobacco to individuals under 18 years of age; cigarette price increases; social marketing and media campaigns and graphic warnings on cigarette packs. All these measures have the effect of denormalising tobacco use in our society which is the most effective way to prevent future generations from continuing the habit. More, however, needs to be done. My Department is finalising a new tobacco policy which sets out a range of measures to achieve a tobacco-free society. These measures include the development of legislation to ban smoking in cars where children are present and the development of legislation for the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products. The plain packaging of tobacco will ensure that cigarette packets are no longer a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry. Evidence shows that young people in particular find plain packaging tobacco products less appealing. As almost 80% of smokers start when they are children it is important that many of our measures should be aimed at young people.

In conclusion I would like to confirm the Minister's and this Government's commitment to health promotion and the introduction of tobacco control measures. I can assure the Senator that the Department and the HSE will continue to monitor the tobacco industry promotion. The aim is to de-normalise smoking and ultimately move to a tobacco-free society. We will, with everyone's assistance, work constructively with all stakeholders to achieve this goal. We cannot but say that the type of packaging that we have been seeing lately, the smart, sleek, long packages are very clearly directed at young women.

The pink sleek packaging is not something that would appeal to young men. It is clearly directed towards young women. The criticism of that type of marketing which we must state loudly and clearly is that this is a clear attempt to get more young people as customers for the tobacco sector.

4:50 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The Government banned ten packs of cigarettes because they were attractive to young people. Let us now ban 20 and 23 packs; let them have their 25 packs. While I take on board the reply, we need to be up-front and forward thinking and move quickly on this issue. They are sneaky and cheeky in the way they do business. We need to be as sneaky and cheeky as they are in dealing with them. I would prefer to see a packet of cigarettes priced at €20, which would definitely put it beyond the reach of many young people. We need to send a clear message to the cigarette companies that when they introduce a new sneaky product, we will deal with the issue head-on and, if necessary, use a sledgehammer in dealing with it. I was appalled when I saw the literature the other day. If there was any way to deal with this more urgently than having a review, I would urge the Minister to do it.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 July 2013.