Speech – Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 16th January 2013

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

With over one in four of the Irish population smoking, it is imperative that the Government make all necessary adjustments to current legislation to ensure that health policy in relation to smoking is properly reflected in law.

 

Over 5,000 people die each year as a result of smoking and half of all long-term smokers die early because of a smoking-related disease, yet it is proving very difficult to deter people, young and not so young, from smoking.

 

Successive Governments have highlighted the price of tobacco products as a factor in smoking rates and we now have a situation where Irish cigarette prices are the most expensive in the EU and the country is experiencing all the ravages of recession, yet over one quarter of the adult population smokes. Other factors to remember is the increasing availability of products to aid smoking cessation and the huge strain which smoking is putting on the health system, with 36,000 of hospital admissions in 2008 coming as a result of smoking.

 

Although to date, the expensive nature of tobacco products in Ireland appears to have had little effect on the population’s smoking habits, there is evidence that price increases help reduce smoking levels. A European study found that a ten percent increase in cigarette price results in a five to seven percent decrease in the number of smokers. The World Health Organisation has backed higher taxation on tobacco products as the single most effective way to encourage smokers to quit and crucially, in preventing children from taking up the habit.

 

Of course, as tobacco prices rise, so too does the attractiveness of black market cigarettes. Duty free cigarettes are estimated to account for 6% of the market and illegally imported black market cigarettes for 14% of the market. Those who use illegally imported black market cigarettes face a number of dangers, not least that the cigarettes were produced without any proper oversight and thus the ingredients used are only to be guessed at and may include extremely harmful toxins.

 

The European Court of Justice ruling which resulted in the necessity of the Bill currently before the House related to minimum pricing for cigarettes. It is now five years since the ECJ brought proceedings against three countries, Ireland, Austria and France, having decided that they contravened the EU Directive on excise duty on cigarettes as they undermined competition.

 

The provisions of the Bill currently before the House focus on controlling or regulating the promotion of tobacco products, rather than setting a minimum price. The provisions aim to ensure that tobacco products will not be available at a reduced price or free when a person purchases another tobacco product.

 

I understand that spokespersons for Action on Smoking and Health have expressed concern at the ruling of the European Court of Justice and have underlined the success of high prices in dissuading would-be smokers and also the high cost of smoking to the country’s health service. The Irish Cancer Society meanwhile, has backed price increases and has also called for comprehensive smoking cessation programmes.

 

I would suggest that the effectiveness of various smoking cessation programmes be tested on medium to large community groups and the process and results televised, in an effort to inform people of the alternatives available and the success rates of the various programmes. I believe that televising such a process, similar to the Operation Transformation TV programme, would give people encouragement that change can be wrought and can show them the health benefits to be gained.

 

Following the ruling of the European Court of Justice, fears were expressed that the new regime would result in widespread price drops for cigarettes, but this has not been the case and the four years since the ruling was made have seen few price reductions and certainly not the avalanche that was feared in 2008. Of course, while the ECJ ruling does militate against instituting minimum pricing, it does concede that fiscal legislation can be used to deter people from smoking without undermining freedom to determine prices.

 

The ruling also has implications in terms of setting a minimum price for alcohol, but once again, Governments are free to use fiscal legislation in this regard without instituting a minimum price for a particular product.

 

I believe that this Bill is a common-sense approach to the difficulties raised by the judgement in the European Court of Justice, one which recognises the need to uphold competition laws whilst simultaneously ensuring that an important element of Irish health policy is properly reflected in our legislation.