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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 19, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    Call to ban sale of cigarettes by 2025 makes sense

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Talking with some friends last night about the political outlook, we agreed one of Fine Gael’s problems is that it hasn’t got the same firepower at the front line as in the party’s glory days of Garret FitzGerald, Alan Dukes, John Kelly, et al. Avril Doyle was another who came to mind. A member of the Belton clan, which has had a prominent role in Irish affairs over the years, she is an able politician and formidable in debate. 

    Nowadays, Ms Doyle is a Member of the European Parliament for the “Ireland East” constituency, along with party colleague Mairead McGuinness and Liam Aylward of Fianna Fail.  

    In terms of political profile on the domestic scene and despite the excellent work of the Parliament office in Dublin,  ”going to Europe” is the equivalent of entering a convent or a monastery.

    But even without ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament is an increasingly-important body which deals with a growing range of issues that impinge on our daily lives. As Neil Kinnock once pointed out to me, it is the largest democratically-elected assembly in the world (his wife Glenys is a Labour MEP).

    But sadly, the Parliament is not taken seriously by the media in English-speaking countries (The Irish Times  is of course one of the honourable exceptions). It just doesn’t catch people’s imagination and its workings as part of the EU system can be extremely complex. However my eye was caught by a report (see link below) that Ms Doyle had called for a total ban on cigarettes and cigars throughout the EU within 15 years, with the clock to start ticking in 2010.

     Ireland and then-Health Minister Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil led the way internationally with the ban on smoking in pubs and the workplace. Here’s a chance to build on that, on a cross-party basis, and show what good Europeans we are at the same time.

     When I was being treated (successfully, according to test results) for prostate cancer last year I became friendly with an elderly lady whose appointments generally coincided with mine. Her condition, I gathered, was lung-related, but every opportunity she got, she escaped from the waiting-room to go outside and puff frantically on a cigarette. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, dragging desperately on a butt as though her life depended on it, when the opposite was probably the case.

    Meanwhile, a very dear friend of mine who had lung cancer was told by his specialist that, unless he gave up the “smokes”, the treatment would be discontinued. He did, but it was too late and he has since sadly passed away.

     The 15-year time-frame makes sense. Let’s hope talk is translated into action. I assume a simple point-of-sale prohibition is intended but the penalties would need to be judicious and “commonsensical”. What we don’t want is for ciggies to join the dreary list with marijuana, cocaine and heroin as part of the repertoire of the illegal drugs trade.

    This is an idea whose time has come. Why didn’t we think of it before?

    Deaglán de Bréadún (longtime ex-smoker)

    Link: http://euobserver.com/9/26515/?rk=1

    • Umar Ahmed says:

      Surely, before considering a law to ban the sale of cigarettes we would have to ensure that alcohol is banned. Alcohol is responsible for causing harm not only to the individual consuming that drug but also to those who come in contact with the individual (to a far greater degree than passive smoking). How many road traffic accidents come as a consequence of smoking? Alcohol is guilty of creating problems within the home and poses problems for society as a whole. I do not think that the same can be said of cigarettes.

      However, I am in favour of a ban on neither. Responsible adults should be afforded the opportunity to make responsible decisions provided that the appropriate information is available and they are informed of such. Moderation is the key. No person can claim that they do not know the health risks that are associated with smoking. Gone is the day where people could claim ignorance.

      What we need to do is to continue to educate the population about the dangers of using cigarettes and ensure that this is done from an early age. Furthermore, a responsibility lies with parents to try to prevent their children from taking up smoking. To deal with the addiction problems associated the government needs to provide appropriate funding for programmes through the Department of Health. It is important that we continue to reduce the numbers of those smoking.

      But to engage in this significant hypocrisy when certain other socially accepted drugs are causing far more damage is truly cynical.

    • Deaglán says:

      Every cigarette you smoke is damaging to your health whereas drinking in moderation can actually be good for you. There are real problems with excessive drinking but a total ban on sales is not the answer. Placing major restrictions on off-licences and cut-price supermarket sales might be a way forward. Drinking alchohol is a social activity and a ban would create problems of social order. Smoking is by definition anti-social. By the way I don’t drink or smoke myself. Deaglán

    • Dr.Nightdub says:

      “What we don’t want is for ciggies to join the dreary list with marijuana, cocaine and heroin as part of the repertoire of the illegal drugs trade.”

      Demand for illegal drugs exists among a minority of people mainly aged mid-teens to mid-30s – overall a very small slice of the total population. Ban cigarettes and the demand from a far bigger slice will simply be driven underground. Does the word Prohibition ring any bells?

      Punitive taxes clearly haven’t worked in terms of lowering demand, they just encourage smokers like me to shop smarter. Having been to the States in June ($3.89 = €2.60 a pack) and Latvia last week (LAT1.40 = €2.10 a pack), I reckon the Irish government will have gone from May to September without screwing me. All this was done perfectly legally – can you imagine the stampede of smugglers if it was made illegal?

    • Deaglán says:

      You sure get around: American and Latvia, all in one month. I was in Riga way back in 1994 and liked it a lot. Most people have to buy their cigarettes in country of residence however. The proposal for an EU-wide ban means you would have to nip over the border to Russia for your smokes on the next visit. What is intended here isn’t a punitive tax, it’s an outright ban on sales. The punitive taxes are just tinkering with the problem. The point is, really, why are we paying so much in taxes to maintain the health system when fellow-citizens are consciously and deliberately making themselves sick by smoking? It’s a form of self-harm. What if smokers were told they would be put at the back of the queue for healthcare?
      Deaglán

    • Dr.Nightdub says:

      “The proposal for an EU-wide ban means you would have to nip over the border to Russia for your smokes on the next visit.”

      Or more likely someone would nip over the border FROM Rusia.

      “What if smokers were told they would be put at the back of the queue for healthcare?”

      In all honesty, if it was a smoking-related illness, I could handle it – so for argument’s sake, treatment of breast cancer should be ranked way higher than treatment of lung cancer for resource allocation. You pays yer money, you takes yer chances – I choose to ignore the two inches of 24-point bold text on the front of the packet and that choice has consequences. Don’t see why it should apply to areas where smoking is irrelevant though e.g. access to A&E for a broken arm.

    • Pamela says:

      “The point is, really, why are we paying so much in taxes to maintain the health system when fellow-citizens are consciously and deliberately making themselves sick by smoking? It’s a form of self-harm. What if smokers were told they would be put at the back of the queue for healthcare?”

      All well and good but if we go that route, wave bye bye to booze, McDonald’s, foods containing trans fats, people who sit in traffic, people who don’t have a gym subscription (and use it), people who eat red meat…the list goes on. Let’s go the whole hog and put anyone who doesn’t live solely on organic lettuce and spring water to the back of the list.

      Yes, anyone who smokes or drinks must be aware of the consequences for their health. But smokers contribute handsomely to the exchequer through their taxes. Banning it would simply drive those “profits” into criminal coffers. Better to dedicate energy to discouraging people from picking up the habit in the first place.

      Personally, I don’t want to live in a nanny state where every cigarette, pint or buttery fry-up could get me into trouble.

    • enda says:

      “What if smokers were told they would be put at the back of the queue for healthcare?”
      So following that logic, do you also suggest that overweight people should be put to the back of the queue also? After all theyre “consciously and deliberately” making themselves sick by eating too much, right????
      Also, smokers pay considerable sums of money on taxes and vat on cigarettes, that non smokers such as yourself do not pay. I’d be very interested to see how the total revenue from the tax and vat on cigarettes paid by smokers over their lifetime compares to the average medical bill that ensues.
      As another poster pointed out, banning things achieves absolutey nothing, educating people about the dangers also does absolutly nothing, as we can see.
      An alternative approach that might actually reduce the number of people who smoke would be to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, and more importantly reduce the effectiveness of cigarettes in delivering nicotine. People generally dont start off as full blown 20 a day smokers. Usually, people spend a year or two when theyre young smoking occasionally. Cigarettes are very, very carefully designed so that these people will nearly always develop into full blown smokers. If the cigarettes were altered and the nicotine reduced then people would not necessarily make the transition, and they would eventually cop on, quit without too much hassle, and importantly without too many health risks. Of course this would require a paradigm shift in peoples thinking away from the current battle between “drugs are bad” ban everything puritanism and total libertarianism. For every one person who thinks all drugs should be banned, theres another who thinks they should all be made legal. True common sense would be to admit that people are going to choose to do this, get over it, and figure out how to make sure they dont do it for very long.

    • Deaglán says:

      The parallel between a Total Smoking Ban (probably inevitable in the long term) and the Prohibition era is interesting. In Prohibition days, we had Speakeasies, maybe now we will have “Smoke-Easies”.
      No, I don’t favour people who smoke being put at the back of the A & E queue for a broken arm. But if you smoke and end up with a lung-related disease, that’s different. It’s not a question of having a Nanny State, quite the opposite. Let’s have a new era of personal responsibility: you smoke-a da cigarettes, you take-a da consequences, ok? And as your mother would have said, “It’s for your good.”
      Good to see the acknowledgment that punitive taxes haven’t worked. As for the suggestion that overweight people should be penalised in terms of healthcare — it’s not the same thing. Smokers are jeopardising, not just their own health but the health of those who have the misfortune to be breathing the same air. If you are a fatty you jeopardise only your own health — unless of course you fall on top of someone by accident.

      This emphasis on the amount of taxes smokers pay makes me smile: I hadn’t thought of that as a grievance. Maybe we will have a revival of the tax marches of the 1980s in Ireland but this time it will be the smokers and the drinkers? Deaglán

    • Tim says:

      Enda, Pamela, et al are correct here. Your notion that a ban on sales of ciggies would help matters is, simply, DAFT, Deaglan. Hard to believe that an intelligent person would suggest a strategy that history teaches us is doomed to failure and, indeed, may make matters worse.

      Look at the current “ban” on the sale of cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, for instance. That does not work. QED.

    • James says:

      Eh a complete ban on smoking cigarettes? making it illegal, Oh i suppose it wll work just as effective as making drugs illegal…because that was a roaring success! Well why not stop there? Why dont they ban alchol, close down pubs, ban fizzy drinks and sweets! And while there at it make everyone wear crash helmets when stepping outside the front door!

      I’ll admit I smoke and so have many people. It’s a problem which was created a long time ago and the infamous EU can’t just press the off button and expect everything to be sunshine and lollypops…

      A better approach is needed, NOT the man with the Whip..

    • Deaglán says:

      I went on holidays just as this discussion was getting interesting. It is probably inevitable that the EU will ban the sales of cigarettes by 2025. I notice already that, if you are flying within the EU, sales of cigs and alcohol on the plane are banned. This does not apply to transatlantic flights.
      As for letting smokers know they will be back of the queue when it comes to lung cancer treatment, this may seem unlikely at the moment but it is an idea whose time will come, sooner or later. Think of the vast billions being spent on the health services. The taxpayer will become impatient with those who are deliberately jeopardising their own health by smoking.
      Deaglán


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