Tuesday, 14 November 2023
Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill 2023: Second Stage
I am delighted to be in the Seanad to introduce this important legislation to the House. The Bill is designed to reduce the health harms of smoking through reducing the use of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products, such as e-cigarettes, in particular by young people. The Bill will achieve these objectives through further restrictions on the sale and advertising of these products, the introduction of a licensing system for the retail sale of the products and strengthening the powers of the enforcement authority, namely, the environmental health service of the HSE. In our debate on the Bill in the other House, there was significant support for taking further action on vaping, and that is my intention. We are preparing to launch next week our public consultation on the further regulation of e-cigarettes or vaping.
I will now take Senators through the content of the Bill, which is divided into seven Parts. Part 1 is titled "Preliminary and General" and contains sections 1 to 10, inclusive. Section 1 sets out the Short Title and provides that the Minister for Health may provide for different lead-in times for different sections.
Section 2 deals with interpretation and defines some of the terms used in the Bill. "Nicotine inhaling product" is defined here and it includes any part of the product, such as a cartridge attached to the product or any substance used in the product.This comprehensive definition means that a licence will be required for the sale of any element of these products. This section also provides that the definition of "sale by retail" includes online sales.
Section 3 ensures that the Act will not apply to medical devices, such as those devices with nicotine that may be prescribed for smokers to assist them to quit smoking.
Section 4 provides that companies and corporate bodies shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident at their registered office or principal place of business.
Section 5 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations as provided for under the Act.
Section 6 is a standard provision dealing with expenses.
Section 7 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents under the Act.
Section 8 provides that where a person is sold a tobacco product or nicotine inhaling product from somewhere outside the State, but that product is despatched within the State, the sale is deemed to have taken place within the State and therefore will be subject to the provisions of the Act.
Section 9 repeals certain sections of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 and certain regulations.
Section 10 was introduced on Committee Stage in the other House and provides for a review of the operation of the Act after 12 months.
Part 2 is titled "Licence for sale of tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products" and contains sections 11 to 24, inclusive. Section 11 sets out the application process for an annual licence to sell either tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products or both. Under the current registration system for tobacco retailers, a once-off registration, with a fee of €50, means that a retailer can sell tobacco products from any number of premises for any length of time. Under the new system, an annual licence for each premises is required. The fee will be determined by the Minister for Health. The section also provides that a licence will not be issued for sales from a temporary or moveable premises other than a commercial passenger ship. This means that pop-up shops, for example at music festivals, will not be licensed to sell tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products.
Section 12 provides for the determination of the licence. The environmental health service of the HSE must refuse to grant a licence if the application is not made correctly, if the applicant has been convicted of two or more serious offences under tobacco control law, or if the applicant provides false or misleading information.
Section 13 provides for the issue of the licence and sets out the information that will be contained on the licence.
Section 14 provides that a licence will be issued for a 12-month period.
Section 15 provides for the renewal of a licence.
Section 16 provides for an appeal to the District Court if an application for a licence, or for renewal of a licence, is refused.
Section 17 provides that a licence holder can apply for a copy of a licence if the original has been lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed.
Section 18 provides that the Minister may prescribe fees in respect of the licensing system.
Section 19 provides that a licence may be revoked if the licensee has committed two or more serious tobacco control offences, or no longer holds a valid tax clearance certificate or provides false or misleading information.
Section 20 provides that a licensee can make representations to the environmental health service in relation to the decision to revoke a licence/
Section 21 provides for an appeal to the District Court against a revocation.
Section 22 sets out the duty to display a licence.
Section 23 describes the register of licences to be held by the environmental health service.
Section 24 sets out that a licensee must notify changes in information to the Environmental Health Service.
Part 3 is titled "Certain Offences" and contains sections 25 to 32, inclusive. Section 25 makes it an offence to sell tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products without a licence.
Section 26 prohibits the sale of tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products by self-service. For example, that will be an end to vending machines both for vapes and, critically, for cigarettes, for tobacco.
Section 27 provides that tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products cannot be sold by a minor. The exception is a close relative of the licensee who is 16 years of age or older. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that these products are not further normalised for young retail workers and to avoid such workers coming under peer pressure to sell these products to other minors.
Section 28 re-enacts the ban on the sale of tobacco products to minors and applies that to nicotine inhaling products also. It shall be a defence for a retailer if the purchaser produces a form of identification such as a passport or age card. Essentially, the section is where most of the focus has been. It will essentially ban the sale of vapes to those under the age of 18.
Section 29 prohibits the sale of tobacco products or nicotine inhaling products at events aimed at children or at events where children are in the majority.Section 30 prohibits the advertising of nicotine inhaling products on several grounds: on school grounds or within 200 m of the perimeter of a school; on a public service vehicle such as a taxi or bus; on a train or a tram; at a train station or bus station and; at a bus stop or tram stop.
Section 31 provides that it is an offence to advertise nicotine inhaling products in a cinema except around a film that has been classified as suitable for adults. Section 32 provides that it is an offence to display a licence that has been suspended, revoked or has expired.
Part 4 is titled "Enforcement and Compliance" and contains sections 33 and 34. Section 33 provides a statutory backing for the environmental health service's programme of test purchasing. This is an enforcement tool used by the environmental health service, in which persons under 18 attempt to purchase tobacco products. Section 34 provides that the environmental health service may publish a list of persons on whom a fine or other penalty has been imposed by a court under the Act.
Part 5 is titled "Penalties and Proceedings" and contains sections 35 to 41, inclusive. Sections 35 to 40, inclusive, set out the detail in relation to penalties for offences under the Bill. Section 41 provides that the offences of the sale of tobacco products and the sale of nicotine inhaling products by self-service, along with the sale of both products at events for children, may be prosecuted within 12 months.
Part 6 is titled "Amendment of Public Health (Tobacco Act) 2002" and contains sections 42 to 49, inclusive. This part makes necessary amendments to the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 in order to provide the environmental health service with the additional enforcement tools of compliance notices, prohibition notices and fixed payment notices throughout all of tobacco control law. In addition, section 45 repeals the 2002 provision that allows for the sale of tobacco products through self-service vending machines.
Part 7 is titled "Miscellaneous" and contains sections 50 and 51. Section 50 inserts nicotine inhaling products into the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act, alongside tobacco products, so that the Act is disapplied from them. Section 51 includes references to this Act in the tobacco products directive regulations of 2016.
That is it. There are a lot of parts to the Bill. I very much look forward to the contributions of colleagues on this very important law, which we know is going to reduce health harms from smoking tobacco and from vaping. It will drive down the uptake of these products particularly by children. I commend the Bill to the House.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome this very important legislation for debate on Second Stage. I am perhaps a little concerned about how long it has taken to get to this point because I think that we need this Bill yesterday. As there is a real urgency to it, I hope that we can enact it quickly and that the measures contained within it can be enforced in all of our communities.
I understand that it is the intention of the Government to go further and to introduce more legislation. The Minister might indicate a timeframe for legislation dealing in particular with the marketing of some of these nicotine inhaling products and around the area of disposable vapes. I might refer to those in my remarks. The reality is that we are facing a public health crisis as a result of the sale of these products. We know already there are about 4,500 deaths every year as a result of nicotine. I have no doubt that even though we were moving very quickly to reduce smoking in this country, the targeting of these products, particularly at teenagers and young people, has resulted in an increase in the risk to their lungs. We are already hearing anecdotally about some of the impacts here. I do not believe that we are doing enough, quickly enough, to be able to address what is a major emerging challenge.
The marketing of these vape products is deeply misleading. By labelling them as vapes, it simply implies that they are vaping flavoured smoke. I welcome the definition within the legislation that the label is "nicotine inhaling products". In terms of the requirements that we should be placing on anyone who is selling those products, they should be required to call them exactly what they are, namely, nicotine inhaling products. I believe that in the legislation, we should look at placing these requirements on all retailers.I welcome within the legislation that they must be licensed retailers in order to be able to do that, and that we cannot have pop-up retailers and so on. Very clearly, these products should be labelled as nicotine inhaling products.
A lot of research has been done in this area but what speaks to me most is when young people themselves talk about the dangers that vapes are having among their communities. Now if one goes into any school community or any youth group and talks to them about it they are genuinely concerned particularly because even though the rates of smoking among young people have declined to single digits we are now seeing double digit figures among young people who are vaping. Many young people who never smoked have taken up vaping. I will give an example. At the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition this year one of the winning projects was from two students from FCJ Secondary School, Bunclody. Aimée Farrell and Leanne Mahon surveyed 1,300 students and they found that 10% of those 1,300 students - which was a very representative sample - had vaped in the previous 30 days and a majority of those who vaped had never smoked. Members will be aware of the recent survey from Foróige in Sligo of 1,000 young people, published in October. In that case it found 36% of young people who currently vaped had not smoked previously.
In the UK there is an even more frightening statistic coming from the NHS. I was not able to find any figures for Ireland but in the UK in the year to April 2023 the NHS states that there have been 15 cases of children aged nine and under admitted to hospital as a result of vaping. The Minister may be aware of the Wexford Comhairle na nÓg report published over a year ago that surveyed more than 1,700 young people. It found that 25% had used an e-cigarette or one of these nicotine inhaling machines, and 86% knew of someone in their age group who had smoked previously. They also found that 88% of all those young people found that the colours or flavours made these nicotine inhaling products more attractive to young people. In reality, it is young people who are telling us, as well as the health experts, how significant this is as a problem. I believe that among young people it is perhaps the major emerging public health crisis that we must face.
I welcome section 30 within the legislation. It provides for restrictions on where advertising is located, including within 200 m of a school. However, I would go further. I will cite again the example of the work done by the Wexford Comhairle na nÓg with Wexford County Council in the Not Around Us campaign. In public spaces controlled by the county council there is now a ban on smoking and vaping. There are requests to other organisations. We have also seen it with a number of sporting organisations that have requested those who are on the sidelines not to smoke or vape. We need to be proactive. There has to be a proactive public health campaign in this area but I would like the Minister to consider expanding the range of areas where advertising for these nicotine inhaling products would be banned.
I welcome section 31 around banning the advertising of these products in cinemas but I raise the question as to why subsection (2) is allowed to continue. They are banned in cinemas except if the film is over 18s. Dare I say that it is reasonably easy for under-18s to sneak into cinemas to see films that may be classified as over-18. I see no reason as to why this exemption should be in place. We do not allow adverts for cigarettes to be shown at films for over-18s. I do not see a reason there is a distinction. It also creates difficulty for cinema owners whereby they have to try to work out what they should or should not be showing at a screening. It would be much easier and much healthier just to have a complete ban on all nicotine inhaling products in cinemas. It would also avoid that which we all know is a reality where certain over-18s films teenagers are going to be able to get in.
It is crucial that we also look at liaising with Coimisiún na Meán. We gave the commission quite considerable powers around the area of online safety. There are concerns. There is extensive research from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, about TikTok videos which are being used to promote nicotine inhaling products. When we deal with advertising we have to look not just at the traditional forms in shops, on streets, on posters and in cinemas. We also need to look at the place where young people predominantly get their information, which is through social media. I am aware that companies like TikTok and others will try to act as the good citizen but I equally believe that the Department should operate with Coimisiún na Meán to ensure that where good practices regarding social media do not exist, sanctions can be applied to the social media companies.
The question of disposable vapes will be critical in the legislation that will be coming forward to deal with the marketing and advertising of these products. Any Tidy Towns or community development group will say that the biggest source of litter on our streets now - along with tobacco products - is disposable vapes. It is becoming a major problem in all communities. One only needs to look at the stickers that are coming from vaping products on bins on our streets. We know where they are coming from. It is from the disposable vapes that are thrown all over streets and roads across the country.
There is no reason we need to continue with disposable vapes. There is evidence that nicotine inhaling products help some people to give up smoking. That was what they were originally intended for. However, we know that the shift has come from the tobacco companies that own most of these products and that they are now very specifically targeting a new generation to become addicts. We need to take them on. Therefore, we need to make it as difficult as possible. We should move towards a prescription basis, to make vapes medical devices and people should be helped in that way.
We cannot underestimate how serious this issue is. It is impacting on a generation of young people in such a way that we need to stand up for them. I support this Bill but the forthcoming legislation needs to go much further.
I welcome the Minister. I am of a generation that did not grow up with vapes and therefore I find the whole thing a bit of a head scratcher when I am out for a run or going round the place and see people who are very young indeed with these nicotine inhaling products in their hands.
There are many tragedies in this world and this is probably one of the lesser ones, but it is very unfortunate one, nonetheless, as we have all had the experience. I know of one particular town close to me where the fruit and veg shop closed and has been replaced by a shop for these products. We are seeing these shops all over the place in every town in the country and it is sad. We are seeing - as one often does in towns that are down-at-heel, where many good businesses have had to close - the bookies and the vaping shop still doing lots of business. It makes one wonder about the health of our culture, where there must be a sizeable section of people spending their money wrongly and foolishly, either on excessive gambling or on the purchase of such nicotine inhaling products. One could add other things on which people waste their money. We live in a free society, and one does not want to overly restrict people in the use of their freedom, but when one sees people who cannot afford it spending too much on lottery tickets it is another example of how we go along with some practices and some market activities that really hurt people who are vulnerable in one way or another.
Of course, I welcome this Bill, but I think about what Senator Byrne said when he reminded us of the 3,000 or 4,000 deaths per year as a result of nicotine and the reports of young people being hospitalised as a result of using these products.I am also reminded that only last week we had a debate, brought to us by Senator Malcolm Byrne and others, about the question of giving the vote to people as young as 16. This issue of vaping should be a reminder to us that many young people are very naive and vulnerable and that there is a cohort of young people, a minority who, one has to say frankly, are stupid. We need, as a society, to be protective of people who are immature and who make stupid choices either as a result of peer pressure, a lack of education, the blandishments of advertisers and so on.
There is one question I want to ask the Minister today. He has said that this Bill will reduce health harms and drive down the uptake of these products, including by children. I know that is his aim but how does he know that this legislation will actually work? I believe it does not go nearly far enough. The question I would like the Minister to answer, if not today then at some point in the future, is whether consideration was given to prohibiting altogether the sale of nicotine inhaling products, except by way of a prescription in pharmacies. We are all agreed that there is only one justification for the marketing and sale of these products, outside of pure, hard-nosed freedom of choice arguments about letting the fittest survive and the letting the vulnerable be caught up in new forms of addiction. If we agree that our society is about something more than that, and that we can actually restrict freedom of choice where there is some major harm going on to vulnerable people, as is clearly the case in the context of vaping, then why not give consideration to providing for the sale of these products only where they are intended to help, which is to assist people in getting over a smoking addiction? That is the only justification that I have ever heard for the sale of these products. If that is the case and that is the only real justification for the sale of such products, why would we not seek to ban their general sale and seek instead to ensure their availability only to people who have a doctor's prescription, who are sincerely trying to overcome their smoking habit and for whom this is a way of doing that? Would that not be the proper context for the manufacture, distribution and sale of nicotine-inhaling products in our society?
Some people might say that is overly restrictive of the free market and of people's adult choices but there are lots of ways in which we restrict these. We can certainly say that when it comes to smoking there seems to be no such thing as non-directive counselling. Everybody is on the same page, that it is bad to smoke no matter what one's age. Nobody is going to say "my body, my choice" and that we have no right to be talking about this. We are all agreed that smoking is bad for people individually and bad for the common good as a result because society is affected by the addiction of people. It is affected in terms of the pressures on the healthcare system and in terms of the loss of people's talents and contribution where they get ill and die prematurely and unnecessarily. We are all agreed that it is okay to try to educate people out of the smoking habit. We spend a lot of money trying to do that so why would we not go further? There is a distinction one can make between the sale of cigarettes, which have always been with us, and the sale of vaping products. Vaping is a new phenomenon and there is still time to adjust society's attitude to it in this way and to see it as something more akin to the smoking ban in pubs. Why not say that people can get their vapes but only if they are trying to overcome a smoking addiction? Why not say we will deploy the health service to enable them to do that by providing access to vaping products through doctors' prescriptions and pharmacies? Was any consideration given to that? Was that ever part of the discussion or was that something that people were afraid to suggest because it seems too restrictive? If something like that was not even discussed, then people are not actually serious about the problem they are trying to solve.
Has any consideration been given to the idea of banning the sale of any flavoured forms of these products? As we all know, as with alcopops, the flavouring of such products is clearly intended to capture the young. Again, are we so libertarian that we say that we cannot do that because we must leave people over 18 free to do exactly what they want?If we leave people who are over 18 free to do exactly what they want what will happen is what Senator Malcolm Byrne said in the context of cinemas. People under the age of 18 will see the advertisements and I guarantee the House that people under 18 will access vapes as well. As for calling them "nicotine inhaling products" somehow to try to get away from the comforting, friendly term of "vape", it will not be long before young people are referring to them as NIPs and they will be nipping out for a NIP. We need to do more. I will not make any Second World War references there, actually. We need to do more than try to manage behaviour through light-touch regulation. I submit that this is an example of light-touch regulation. I commend the Minister on making an effort but if we are really serious about the public health problem it already is, not to say it is becoming, should consideration not be given to something much more restrictive than what is on offer today?
I welcome the Minister to the House for this important legislation. I share the concerns of Senator Malcolm Byrne and others that it has taken too long and I think the Minister will accept that. This really should have been done a number of years ago. I accept the fact the Minister has only been in office since 2020; it should have been dealt with even before then. I find myself agreeing with everything my colleague Senator Mullen said. We are seeing a very dangerous development of vaping among young people. While cigarette smoking has reduced and a great body of work has been done to reduce cigarette smoking among young people and in society in general, it has been replaced by vaping. I do not buy the argument that vaping helps people to get off cigarettes; it does not. There are people who make a lifestyle choice to vape and who never had a problem with cigarettes It is clear that is happening. The research demonstrates that is happening and we need to deal with it. It is terrible that a vegetable shop closed and a vape shop opened and we see them everywhere. In Ennis, in my own county of Clare, there was a very famous shop for years called the Record Rack. As children, we all went into it and it is now a vape shop. I mean it is just awful and they are appearing everywhere. This legislation bans them at festivals. That is great but really and truly vaping needs to be banned in the same way that cigarette smoking is banned. It needs to be banned in all indoor areas and all public areas. It needs to be banned in cars. There just needs to be zero tolerance when it comes to it, the same as with cigarette smoking.
The Tánaiste, when he was Minister for Health in March 2004, was very brave when he introduced the smoking ban. The pushback from the publicans at the time was outrageous. If we proposed introducing smoking indoors now, the pushback would be something else. Society has changed and almost 95% of people have no tolerance for cigarette smoke. The public do not have tolerance for vaping and that needs to be dealt with.
We also see a situation where there are 30- and 40-packs of cigarettes now. Before it was 10- and 20-packs and the 10-packs were banned. Now instead of there being packs of 20, there are packs of 30 and 35 cigarettes. We should ban anything over 20 so it should be just one single packet of 20 cigarettes and nothing else.
In Australia, a person needs a prescription to get a vape. A doctor has to certify that the person tried to give up cigarettes and, as such, they need a vape. That is what we should consider here. We should ban vape shops from opening up and down the country. They certainly should be banned from the main streets of towns. It is terrible to look at the main streets of a lot of towns now and there is either a mobile phone shop or vape shop. We need to really evaluate our approach to it.
I am glad the Minister is establishing a consultative process for further legislation in this area.I strongly suggest that he try to introduce that legislation in 2024 because there is a lot that could be done in this Bill that is not being done. I fully accept that it is a very good start but it is only a start. We really need to deal with this head-on and show zero tolerance.
As always, the Minister is very welcome to the Chamber. This Bill is the first legislation on e-cigarettes. Will the Minister confirm whether the Bill, which a Seanad colleague has suggested represents light-touch regulation, goes further than required by the EU? The Bill requires annual licensing, bans sales to minors and sales at events for children and introduces additional restrictions on advertising. It is positive that it goes further than EU requirements.
My Seanad colleague, Senator Mullen, said that there is a cohort of young people who can be naive and make stupid decisions. That may be so but there are also older people who are naive and can make stupid decisions. I am not sure that is a strong and compelling argument for categorising or subdividing the population by age when it can apply to any age group. However, the evidence is clear and I commend Senator Mullen for, not for the first time, adopting an approach that cannot be accused of being populist. His proposal comes from a genuine place and, in a democracy and a chamber such as this, you need to hear other viewpoints and to be challenged. The Senator also had a different viewpoint when he opposed lowering the voting age during last week's debate. Although I implacably disagree with that viewpoint, I admire people who can come up with different propositions and stand over them.
E-cigarettes are clearly not harm-free. They can damage health, inflict short-term harm and potentially act as a gateway to cigarette tobacco smoking. The number of people vaping in Ireland is on the rise, with new research indicating that the average age at which young people start to vape is between 13 and 15. The rate of vaping among teenagers increased from 23% in 2014 to 39% in 2019 according to research carried out in secondary schools by the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland. A new study by the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation has found that more than one in five children aged between 12 and 17 years of age have tried e-cigarettes, double the number who have tried tobacco. Marketing through social media plays a big role in promoting vaping with videos on all social media platforms normalising the behaviour and enticing children to try it, after which they get addicted.
Concerns have been raised that the legislation does not go far enough in protecting children as it will still be legal to purchase e-cigarettes for them. This is the case with all cigarettes but we should not shy away from introducing rules based on a fear that they are unenforceable. The legal ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children will allow a cultural norm to be established that children should not be smoking cigarettes of any type. These cultural norms are very important in directing behaviour across our society.
In his opening remarks, the Minister referred to matters that are coming down the line and the public consultation process. He will be aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, proposes to ban the sale of single-use vapes. A public consultation on that issue was held in September and the results will be available shortly. This is particularly important for young people because a recent study showed that 50% of young people rely on single-use vapes. Single-use vapes contain lithium batteries and other toxic materials and are frequently littered, causing pollution. They cannot be recycled and are a very wasteful use of precious resources. Single-use vapes are becoming a blight on the environment and are very difficult to manage.This legislative initiative is a step in the right direction. I commend the Minister and the Government on introducing it. It was well-received in the Lower House and the Green Party and our grouping is happy to support it.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Many of the speakers have said that the Bill has been a long time coming and that it is long overdue. I remember at the time of the EU's tobacco directive I and Sinn Féin were on the side of arguing for these vaping products to be included in the regulations at that stage because all of the anti-tobacco industry were warning that this was the tobacco industry's survival technique. They warned that this was not about getting people off cigarettes but that it was clearly designed to create a new market of new products for new addicts. They have been proven right in that. They showed us back then, nine years ago, the flavours that were coming down the road and they showed us the designs of the products that were to appeal to young people. It is disappointing that at the time, in its wisdom, the EU did not accept the evidence and regulate the nicotine replacement products and vapes. It is also interesting that they warned about the fact that the science was still out around the harms caused by these products, which we are starting to see filter down, and there are real concerns around these products and the harm they are doing to people's lungs.
Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill and the debate. We generally support this Bill but we plan to propose some amendments during Committee Stage, which I will get to. As I said, it is a long-overdue public health measure, particularly, as others have said, because vaping and the business of vaping is aggressively targeting young people. Last July, the Committee on Health completed its pre-legislative scrutiny, revealing the urgent need to modernise the regulation of tobacco and nicotine inhaling products.
Others have spoken about the trends and in 2015, just under one in four teenagers had used a vape, rising to nearly 40% by 2019. Although the number of smokers has also increased, it remains lower than that of vapers. This trend has likely continued, if not accelerated, during the pandemic years. That is due to the weakness in the existing legislation. Vaping is entrenched in youth culture, undoing the progress we have seen in reducing smoking and nicotine addiction over the past two decades.
The Bill is welcome and I will not go through the details of it as the Minister has done so. One of the glaring gaps in the existing legislation is the absence of a prohibition on selling nicotine inhaling products to children, which Part 3 of the Bill addresses by outlining related offences. This section is crucial, with several provisions aimed at protecting children from exposure to these products. Section 27 prohibits selling these products to children, while section 28 extends the prohibition to events aimed at or attended by a majority of children. We welcome these provisions. Section 29 addresses advertising, prohibiting it in or around schools, public services, transport vehicles and cinemas. These provisions collectively form a robust set of offences to prevent sales to children and counter the effects of targeted advertising. Enforcement here will be key. We are good at introducing legislation in this country but we are not so good at the enforcement of it. Through parliamentary question responses, I have learned that no enforcement case has been brought for breaches of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. It is very important that we introduce legislation and back it up with adequate enforcement.
During pre-legislative scrutiny, advocacy organisations suggested banning flavoured vaping products and regulating their packaging. It would be helpful - and others have raised this as well - if the Minister could address these issues during the Bill's progression. Specifically, insights on packaging regulation and intentions to align it with cigarette packaging standards, including the enforcement of plain packaging, would be valuable to Senators.Part 4 introduces test purchasing to ensure compliance with prohibitions on sales to children, and it allows children over 15, with parental consent, to be part of spot checks and working with an inspector. I would like the Minister to elaborate on the practical aspects of that. Will these children be paid for their services? How will he make sure that there is adequate parental or guardian consent?
These sections will undergo further scrutiny, and we plan to propose amendments on Committee Stage. One standard amendment that we believe should be included is a review process and that it would be prudent for any new licensing system be subject to a review after two years, to ensure that the system on offences against targeting children are working as intended. Particularly crucial is evaluating the Bill's effectiveness in managing online sales, given the difficulties in regulating them. Section 8 attempts to address this by defining the point of sale but its effectiveness remains uncertain. A mandatory review after two years would allow for data collection, analysis and adjustments to enhance the legislation's performance.
Information dissemination is key, and the Government must ensure accurate information about the harms and risks associated with smoking and vaping is widely available. Addressing misinformation and misperceptions is also crucial, especially concerning the nuanced differences between vaping and traditional methods. It is important that we equip adults with accurate information to make informed choices, and preventing children's easy access to addictive substances is a responsibility of the State.
While the Bill is a positive step, there is additional work to be done. Before I conclude, I echo the calls of others around disposable vapes. They are absolutely a scourge with regard to the environment. They create litter and we see them around every community. Regarding this idea of one-off items that contain batteries and lithium, it just blows the mind that it is legally allowed to happen. We are trying to do away with single-use plastics and items, and here we have a situation where we have single-use items that actually have batteries and precious, finite resources included in them, and they are littering our streets. The blue box, and the current public advertising campaigns trying to encourage people to dispose of them correctly, is putting a sticking plaster on something that is a real environmental issue. I would like to hear the Minister's response on what the Government's view is around the banning of single-use vapes in the future.
Before I go to the next speaker, I welcome the group from County Louth to the Public Gallery, who are guests of Senator McGahon. He said he will look after the tab afterwards, and whatever they want in the restaurant, it should not be a problem. Our next speaker is Senator O'Loughlin, who has five minutes.
I thank the Chair. Fianna Fáil, as the Chair and Minister know, believes in the delivery of fundamental public health services to the highest standard, through investment, innovation and of course reform, which this really falls under. In government, we have continued to support the reform of our health services and have implemented universal health care that is accessible and affordable for all. I want to commend the Bill that the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has brought in front of us today. It is another important step in protecting the health and well-being of our young people.
The primary objective of the Bill is to regulate the retail sale of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products, including the introduction of a licensing system and further restriction on the sale of these products. We always have to remember that smoking remains the single leading cause of preventable ill health, disability and premature mortality in Ireland. Current estimates are that 4,500 people in Ireland die from tobacco each year. Sadly, ten years ago, my dad was one of those and even though he had given up smoking 15 years before, as the doctors said at the time, the damage was done and he died from lung cancer. I have the good fortune to have inherited many of his personality traits and characteristics but I am really glad that smoking was not one of them.I always remember him talking about starting to smoke at the age of nine but nobody knew then that tobacco was bad. It was a cool thing to do. That was a nine-year-old starting smoking. We can easily see vaping and such products being taken up by nine-year-olds, so we absolutely have a responsibility to act when we can.
It is almost a year since the Government approved the addition of two programme for Government commitments to the general scheme of the Bill, first, restricting the type of retailers that can sell nicotine inhaling products and, second, curbing the advertising of nicotine inhaling products near schools, on public transport and in cinemas, which is very important. It is fitting that this Bill is coming from Fianna Fáil. As we all know, our party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, implemented the smoking ban in 2004. Ireland was the first country in the world to do this. It was a controversial issue at the time and a decision that took significant political bravery but I think we can all agree it was the right decision at the right time. I have no doubt that we will look back on this Bill in years to come and will reach the same conclusion.
The HSE has warned that vaping is an emerging risk to the health of children and young people. E-cigarette use has been linked with acute harms, including poisoning, burns, fractures, lung injury and asthma exacerbation. Early evidence links e-cigarettes to cardiovascular and respiratory tissue damage. It is sad that we see how common vaping has become among children and young people, with data from 2018 showing that one in ten children and young people aged 12 to 17 used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. When driving by schools, we often see young people vaping when going into and coming out of school. Data focused on 16-year-olds found that one in five were using e-cigarettes in 2019, double the figure in 2015, and if it has doubled again by this stage, it must be one in every two or three. It has become so bad that one former secondary school principal has said that schools are facing a new epidemic of students vaping. It is a growing phenomenon and one we absolutely need to tackle. The colours, flavours and branding are all geared towards younger people.
We need to be very clear about the health risks associated with vaping. It is not cool or trendy; it is a significant health hazard. According to the Health Research Board in its 2019-20 national drug and alcohol survey, 17.4% of respondents indicated that they had smoked in the prior 30-day period, corresponding to 680,000 of the general population in Ireland aged 15 and older. Almost four in ten students had tried cigarettes and almost one in five were current users. That all leads us to know that this legislation is needed. I welcome the Bill and look forward to seeing it pass through these Houses.
I thank the Chair for welcoming my guests from County Louth. It is fortuitous that I happen to be speaking in the Seanad at the same time that they are here, and there are three or four tours coming after them as well, given we have such a good group up.
I have spoken to quite a number of retailers and shopkeepers, not just in my home town of Dundalk but throughout County Louth. Some of the aspects of this Bill are certainly a concern for them and they wanted me to raise them directly with the Minister. I have four points or questions which the Minister may be able to elaborate on in his contribution to the House.
The first issue that people have spoken to me about is the cost of licences. Shop owners have stressed to me the importance of the licence fee covering the cost of administering the licence only and that it does not become a de facto sales tax, for want of a better term. Can the Minister provide information on how the licence fee will be decided? That would be useful to know.
In terms of the sale of the bigger boxes of cigarettes, the Revenue Commissioners’ figures show that the sale of large boxes has increased year on year since their introduction in 2012, nearly a decade ago. This accounts for 35% of all cigarette sales on the island of Ireland. New research also shows that the bigger boxes are, naturally enough, the driver of greater consumption.That is completely contrary to Government policy and has a direct negative consequence for addiction and health outcomes in Ireland. The question I have on that is whether the Minister will consider banning bigger boxes of cigarettes so we have some chance of meeting our targets to eliminate smoking by 2025 and thereafter.
On the third aspect, many shop owners in Dundalk said the same thing to me, namely, there is certainly a role for the Revenue Commissioners in this process. They collect the licence fees from many different commercial sources, and I wonder whether the Minister has considered allowing them to administer this licence themselves, rather than the HSE. The Revenue Commissioners, given their role, already have an established relationship with businesses, so they could roll it out much more easily. It is something that would be really useful.
The final point raised with me was shop closures. In the event of a shop closing for whatever specific reason, or if it is transferred through a sale, will the Department of Health allow for a pro ratarefund of the licence fee for the time period it was not in use?
I have brought those four queries to the Minister directly from retailers in County Louth. I am glad I had the opportunity to put them on the record of the House. I would appreciate replies to them not in the Minister's response to the debate, but perhaps in writing at some stage in the future.
I welcome the Minister to the House. This is an important Bill. We have had some good discussion here. There have been some reoccurring themes, but it is important when we talk about the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill 2023 that we have some regard for the retailers. There are many aspects and sides to this debate, so I want to talk a little about the convenience stores. They play an important part in all of our communities. The Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association, CSNA, represents approximately 1,500 stores. That is a lot of stores, a lot of businesses, a lot of enterprise and they are an important part of this bigger debate. The CSNA represents those big retailers nationwide, as well as some that are independent and some that are multi-franchise operations. The retailers are very significant in the dispersal and selling of the products we are talking about. The members of the CSNA have significant expertise and experience in the retail of a wide variety of products. Its members are already involved in the selling of tobacco, nicotine-inhaling products, alcohol and a whole range of other things, so they have a certain amount of experience.
I do not want us to come into a situation where we become reactionary and over-regulatory about issues and about where we draw the line. Yes, there are health factors and yes, they have to be considered, but the CSNA has welcomed the publication of this Bill. That is an important point I do not want to be lost on us. The association supports strict restrictions on the sale of cigarettes or vapes to those below the age of 18 years and I agree that is the correct thing to do. What is becoming clear from the people I have talked to in the last few days in preparation for our discussions and debate on the Bill is the issue of a broader consultative process. The Minister is mindful of that and I understand he has plans in that regard, but it is really important we hear the different views and different aspects within this debate.
I will mention some of the recommendations the CSNA have talked about. It says it wants an evidence-based and transparent methodology to be used to establish and calculate the licence fees, as other Senator have said. The CSNA believes the Revenue Commissioners should be responsible. They are capable and very effective in the collection of any levies, licences and fees and are, therefore, an obvious choice. The CSNA argues it is important we maintain the age restriction at 18 years. Some have the view that restriction should go up. We had a debate here last week, which Senator Mullen referred to, on votes for people aged 16 years and older. It is about where we are drawing lines on age, responsibility, informed consent and informed knowledge. We should come down heavily on the proxy purchasing of these products, there is no question about that. I have made reports where we have had people go in and purchase alcohol, then come out the door and disperse it to 15 to 17 year-olds. I have raised issues with the licensing of premises of a number of people in my district, because I am vigilant.When it is brought to my attention, I take the necessary and appropriate action that is required to remedy, or seek a remedy, to that situation. There is an argument for the Revenue Commissioners. They are significant and, as I say, they could be appointed to collect and administer the fees, etc. It is important because the health aspect is important and the Minister is, ultimately, the Minister for Health and he has responsibility for health and other matters.
The Irish Heart Foundation made an ask in its pre-budget submission to the Minister and to the Government to introduce a tax on the vapes. There was no mention here of any of its suggestions; the Government rejected its ask and did not move on it. It was not asking for a total ban. In its submission, it said that it was looking for a tax on the vapes because it was concerned, but its calls were ignored. The Minister would have been aware of all of that. He is the Minister who claims responsibility for health within the Government and he is fully aware of the threats that vapes pose to the future health of our children. I say “our children”, because we know there are 11, 12, 13 and 14-year-olds with vapes on our streets. That is a concern. Clearly, nobody can tolerate that. Had the Irish Heart Foundation’s request in its pre-budget submission been adhered to, at least it would have made vapes more costly. The reality is that children are finding access to these and, of course, when things are cost-sensitive, there may be some form of deterrent to them. That is what the Irish Heart Foundation said in its submission. We know that children die and have died as a result of vapes, as well as the overuse or inappropriate use of vapes. Clearly, therefore, this is an issue that we need to address.
I appeal to the Minister to have a broader public consultative engagement on aspects of this Bill. It is good and the Minister has my general, broad support, but I think it could be better.
The Minister is very welcome. There are just a couple of points I wish to bring up. I am speaking as an ex-smoker for a long number of years. I have been off them for 20 years, thank God. I was in a school in Longford, with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, approximately 18 months ago, where a lady named Grace Kearney from the local family resource centre, Bridgeways in Ballymahon, spoke with first and second years about vapes. It was only through conversation with her that the actual situation as it was on the ground was majorly brought to my attention. There are 9, 10 and 11-year-olds vaping. Businesses were giving out free samples and they were delivering them to youngsters outside schools to try to get them hooked on vapes. When they are hooked on them, they will be customers for a prolonged length of time. I want to compliment Ms Kearney on the work she was doing by trying to tell youngsters about the dangers of vapes. I think there was mindset out there that it was cool because there were all these various different flavours.
I was at the Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar last summer. There was a queue at a shop when I was going out with my young lad to buy ice cream for him. I thought the queue was for the ice cream machine, but the queue of approximately 40 youngsters, aged approximately 12 years and up, was to buy vapes in the shop. What is happening on the ground blew my mind. It is therefore time we had this legislation in place.
I am also a retailer. I always had an over-18 policy for vapes, as did all the other shops in my village. We collectively made a decision that was the way it was going to be for all of us. I know that happened in other areas, but there are places where that did not happen. I have a few concerns. Some of them have been mentioned by Senator McGahon in the last few minutes with regard to the licence and the cost of it. It is another cost for small retailers. Is the licence going to cost me, as a small retailer in a local village, the same price it will cost a retailer on a high street here in Dublin or will it be gradual and based on location?
The point was also made about the sizes of the boxes of cigarettes. I agree that we need to look at that. When we got rid of the ten-pack of cigarettes, it made a difference at the time regarding the younger generation that purchased cigarettes. I am seeing now that more people are buying the larger boxes because they become slightly cheaper when they buy them in large quantities. The reality is that people are smoking more. I do think it is something that needs to be looked at.
I do have a concern because I pay my licence fee to the Revenue Commissioners. Why is it the HSE and not the Revenue Commissioners that will be administering this licence? I ask for a little clarity on the cost of the licence and whether it will be the same across the board for every single retailer. It should be implemented by Revenue. Has any consideration been given to the box size cigarettes are sold in? I know that is not relevant to this legislation, but I have concerns about it.
I welcome the Minister to the House. The proposed legislation is very welcome and timely. He is to be congratulated on that.
As this is Second Stage, I will make a couple of initial general comments before getting more specific. It is worthy of stating, and should be acknowledged, that we have made great strides in reducing cigarette smoking in the population and the culture of acceptance around it. That has all been very well achieved. It is appropriate to acknowledge the role of the Tánaiste initially in banning cigarette smoking in public places, including hostelries etc. While that was initially unpopular, it has proven to be the right thing to do and has proven to be a success. Sadly, and one does not like doing these things, the acceleration, or whatever the term is, of the increase in the price of cigarettes at budgets over the years has been a success. It is correct that we now address the vaping issue. I am completely in support of that. Vaping materials should not be sold to young people under the age of 18. It is a sina qua nonfor good public health practice and this legislation should be done. It will be difficult to administer but that is not a reason to not face the challenge.
I will make specific comments based on conversations I have had regarding the legislation. The relevant people and those directly on the coalface in this matter is the Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association, CSNA. It represents 1,500 stores throughout the Republic, employing in excess of 35,000 people who are both full-time and part-time workers. Its members have front-line experience in retailing and the behaviour of tobacco manufacturers in incentivising sales. As public representatives and community leaders, we should also acknowledge such retailers are at the front line of sponsoring local good causes in their communities and providing employment for local students, which helps them through university etc. That has to be good. I assume that my good colleague and friend, Senator Carrigy, is generous in his sponsorship. I have not heard to the contrary in the locality where he is a significant retailer. Retailers do a lot in that sphere for which they should be acknowledged.
The CSNA is supportive of the Bill but believes it could be strengthened in places. I ask the Minister to take this on board on Committee and Report Stage, particularly when it comes to the sale of big boxes of cigarettes, or packs over the size of 20. As Senator Carrigy said, it was a great initiative to get rid of the sale of ten packs but at present, under law, tobacco manufacturers and not retailers are allowed to set the price of tobacco products. This gives tobacco manufacturers the power to incentivise the sale of bigger boxes, that is, in packs of 30, 35 and 40, which are cheaper on a per cigarette basis than a box of 20 cigarettes. A pack of 20 cigarettes costs approximately €15 and a pack of 35 is approximately €22.50. On a strict pro ratabasis, this should retail at €26.25. Instead, the consumer is saving €1.05 and the Exchequer is losing both VAT and the ad valoremtax on this promotional price, which is determined by the tobacco industry. Under law, the retailer cannot sell the product at any price higher than the set price. This is the only product within the shop on which the retailer cannot set the price.I ask the Minister to consider it because I know his ambition is to get this right. The advice of retailers on the ground is interesting in this regard. The Minister might consider that as an amendment or as future legislation if it is not possible to amend this legislation to that effect. It is certainly an anomaly that needs sorting.
Figures from the Revenue Commissioners show that the sale of large boxes of cigarettes have increased substantially since their introduction in 2012, now accounting for 35% of all cigarette sales. It is, therefore, a significant issue and the figure is quite significant. The difference in price is significant. It might not be in objective terms, but it is to the people here. I ask the Minister to look at it. I genuinely respect his bona fides in this area so it is a matter of us all collectively getting it right. Sales of big boxes are driving consumption and addiction, making it harder for the Government to achieve its target to eliminate smoking. Obviously, that is a logical corollary. Similar to the ban of packs of ten cigarettes, will the Minister take the opportunity to ban big boxes? That is basically what I have been asking for. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Carrigy, who has front-line experience, that the Revenue Commissioners would be best placed to collect this licence. I also agree with the request of traders that there might be a moratorium when we are removing under-18s from sales of these products and that there would be a period for retailers to adjust to that reality if they have 16-year-olds or whatever working for them at the moment. That is a consideration.
I thank the Minister for his time. It is great that we have this legislation. We should all put our money where our mouth is, if you like, and enthusiastically support this Bill, which I certainly do.
The Minister is very welcome. This is a piece of legislation we have all been looking forward to in the Seanad. The real reason vapes are so much in our face and that we smell them when walking down the street is due to a cynical attempt by the tobacco industry to find new markets for itself. Our children are the people who not just the industry but, indeed, governments have been letting down. It is now our job, as the Government, to put a stop to this.
As in my children's school, vapes are a huge problem for the education sector. Teachers and principals all have to deal with this issue. Is it illegal at the moment? No, it is not. How do they deal with that? They have to put in place their own policies. Senator Carrigy spoke very well about shop owners having to put in regulations within their own towns. This could not come at a better time.
As I speak about the tobacco industry, I remember when I was in college studying sociology as an undergraduate, we did a survey of young people and smoking. That is going back a few years, but the numbers at that stage were going down. Now, however, we are seeing a rise again. The tobacco industry told us that bringing in vapes was a way to get people away from cigarette smoking but the European school survey on the use of alcohol and other drugs, ESPAD, youth survey found that we are now seeing an increase from a halving of cigarette smoking to numbers going back up again. It cannot be a coincidence that vaping is rising significantly, as many have said. They are basically being handed out like Smarties to our young people and we have felt powerless without legislation.
The other really important point here is the cost. Young people do not have as much money, so they are being sold things on their smartphones. They are being sold something that is affordable to them, that is enjoyable and that smells nice. A person can even vape sitting in his or her bed and it is not a danger. This is why the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth's legislation goes hand in hand with this and that is legislation to ban single-use vapes.Even if you are over 18, you will not have access to something that is cheap but really damaging to the environment and that will go a long way in helping. I am hopeful the Minister is supportive. I acknowledge he is working with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, on that legislation, which will protect health as well as the environment.
When it comes to live events and events in general, a really important part of this legislation is to ban vapes in places where there are likely to be many young people. As a parent, I know that even when you ban something, the enforcement of that is the really difficult piece. People can get access to things that are illegal if they are readily available. It is a matter of stopping that availability when there is a large number of people at an event, because it will be illegal for them to use them. That is a critical and important piece.
I know people have said they have concerns with the licensing, but I find that quite difficult to listen to at this early Stage. This is because this is the start of a consultation process around licensing. Every time I hear of people's concerns being brought in at this early Stage when we are talking about something that is so essential to health, it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Let us really concentrate on the fact that our young people are being exposed at the moment. We know that young people are being harmed by the vapes themselves. We know that it is not decreasing the amount of cigarette smoking that is happening. In fact, it looks as though it is increasing it, albeit at a lower rate than previously. There is therefore very little good to say about vapes at this point. Let us look at who has been pushing for them, where the advertising has been and which companies are behind them. These companies are trying to make money, as they have done in the past, from things that have damaged our children's health. They are continuing to do that. I say, "Not on our watch". Now that we are all in government together, let us finally do something that will really put the health of young people front and centre.
I thank colleagues across the Seanad for their contributions and support for this Bill. This Bill will do three important things. First, it will make it illegal to sell vapes to people under the age of 18. Second, it will bring in more restrictions on advertising for vapes. Third, it will bring in additional controls on the sale of both tobacco and nicotine inhaling products. This includes a ban on vending machines, a ban on mobile sales units and the licensing regime.
In terms of timing, I want to see the ban on the sale of vapes to those under the age of 18 in law before Christmas. I will be working with the Seanad so that hopefully, we can move through the remaining Stages as quickly as we can. The Bill will then go to the President, who I hope will sign it. As soon as the President signs it, I will enact the section to immediately ban the sale of vapes to those under the age of 18. That should be our goal.
We are going to go further. In parallel with this Bill, we are drafting a second Bill. The public consultation for the second Bill will open next week and the health committee has already done a lot of detailed work on the measures that can be contained within the second Bill. What are we asking for opinions on? It is on the colours. I believe, as many of us do, that these very attractive, cynical designs are targeting children. It is my view - I think it is the view of colleagues around the House - that the flavours, such as bubble gum and all these other flavours, are a cynical attempt by the tobacco industry to target children. On the issue of point-of-sale advertising, we are all aware of how we are bombarded by these colours and all these point-of-sale advertisements when somebody goes to buy their petrol or goes to a retailer to do their shopping.
In addition, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, has asked for the public consultation to include taxation, which is something he wants to bring in. We are also looking at a full ban on disposable vapes. The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, as has been referenced, is pursuing this as well. I do not mind at all which Bill it is in; I just want disposable vapes to be banned. It is not an easy thing to do, because we are within the Single Market and we have to find the right legal mechanism through which to do that. As I said, the public consultation will begin next week. It includes a consultation on vaping in cars, for example. The Bill that is before us is an important one and we must get it enacted before Christmas, and the second Bill will allow us to go even further.
Colleagues have asked various questions and raised various issues around the licensing regime. I have asked my officials to revert to colleagues with a detailed note to any who have raised this and we can go back to the Seanad in general on the questions that have been raised. One question was regarding the amount. Within the Bill, it is the Minister for Health of the day who will by regulation determine the amount. To give colleagues a sense of what is going on around the world, in Australia, it ranges from approximately €160 to approximately €780 in different states. In Canada, in Ottawa, it is €680. In Oregon, it is €880. In Finland, it ranges from €100 to €180, up to a maximum of €1,000 for combined nicotine and tobacco. In Ireland, our own jurisdiction, we already have a €500 annual fee per category of alcohol product. If, for example, a retailer sells wine, beer, spirits and cider, they will pay €2,000 per year. We will look at all of that in the round to decide where to go with it.
We are not including larger packs of cigarettes in this Bill, but we will keep it under review. We will continue to look at the evidence to see if there is a clear link between the larger packs and higher smoking rates. We have to ultimately be evidence-led. However, if, as colleagues have said, there is a pricing differential that makes it cheaper to buy more cigarettes, I fully agree that we should remove any financial incentive for people to buy larger packs, for all the obvious reasons.
The reason the Department of Health, rather than the Revenue Commissioners, will lead on the licensing system, is that this is first and foremost a public health regime. The purpose here is not to raise revenue; it is a public health regime, so the Department of Health is taking the lead on it. However, I understand where colleagues are coming from.
On the issue of the environmental health service, it does have a very active role. It has been pointed out that the prosecutions are low, but that is because they are working in a way to have enforcement and compliance with the law and the regulations without having to go there. I want to acknowledge that our environmental health officers do important work right across the country.
I will finish by thanking colleagues again. We will be seeking to proceed to Committee Stage as soon as the Seanad can facilitate it-----