Minister urged to clamp down on smoking

THE GOVERNMENT must put anti-smoking services under a central body and provide training for all healthcare professionals, anti-smoking campaigner Prof Luke Clancy said.

Prof Clancy, a leading advocate of the 2004 workplace smoking ban, said Ireland had underachieved in relation to tobacco addiction since the ban.

He accused the last government of a misplaced concern for exchequer revenue in not increasing the price of cigarettes.

He also criticised former minister for health Mary Harney, who he said had withdrawn funding which had been approved by her predecessor Brian Cowen and had “turned her back” on his Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland.

He accused Ms Harney of restricting the work of the Office of Tobacco Control by merging it with the HSE and reducing its resources.

Speaking at the launch of international research on smoking sponsored by healthcare company Pfizer, Prof Clancy called on Minister for Health James Reilly to reinvigorate anti-smoking measures.

“I hope he will be persuaded this will be the most important thing he will do in his time as health minister,” he said.

Prof Clancy told The Irish Times he believed former minister for finance Brian Lenihan had given in to the tobacco industry in not raising the price of cigarettes.

He said there appeared to be a mistaken belief that exchequer revenue would crash as numbers of illegally imported cigarettes soared. But he said “every other country in the world” had discovered that price rises led to additional revenue for the exchequer.

Prof Clancy said smuggling cigarettes was a law and order issue.

He said not only was tobacco one of Ireland’s and Europe’s biggest health problems, but it placed considerable strain on the economy as well. Anti-smoking strategies were “cost negative”, he said.

Prof Clancy said the research conducted among 20 European countries had made specific recommendations in relation to each country.

In relation to Ireland it called for:

  • the reorganisation of current smoking cessation services under one central national body;
  • increased reimbursement for smoking cessation treatments;
  • all healthcare professionals to be trained in how to deliver smoking cessation programmes;
  • sustained education of the general public;

the implementation and resourcing of current anti-smoking measures.

Norma Cronin, health promotion manager with the Irish Cancer Society, said its vision of society was “that young people will choose a smoke-free lifestyle, that all smokers will be given an opportunity and support to quit smoking and national awareness campaigns will be sustained to educate the general public on the health consequences of smoking and motivate people to quit”.

She said that while Ireland had led the world and made progress in tackling tobacco through legislative changes in recent years, “it is clear that we have under-achieved in relation to tobacco prevalence”.

The research, which examined attitudes to smoking and smoking cessation among 2,482 healthcare professionals, 20,010 smokers and 22,683 non-smokers, found the overwhelming majority of smokers in Ireland wanted to quit.

With 79 per cent of Irish smokers claiming they wanted to quit, only Luxembourg rated higher at 83 per cent.

The research also shows that people believe that young smokers under 16 should be priority for targetting by the Government to bring about a reduction in the numbers smoking.

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