Saluting Ireland’s global leadership on smoking

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 01:00

The tenth anniversary of the 2004 workplace smoking ban is a significant milestone. Up to 4,000 smoking-related deaths have been prevented in the past decade as a result, representing a huge gain for public health. Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, and is the world’s biggest cause of premature death from chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

One in every two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease. But research published last year into the effects of the smoking ban here found tangible benefits: it was associated with a 26 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease; a 32 per cent reduction in stroke; and a 38 per cent fall in the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

As well as the six million people a year killed by their own smoking, the World Health Organisation says another 600,000 die annually as a result of exposure to other peoples’ smoke.There is particular concern about the impact of second-hand smoke on children. Of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. By targeting children under the age of 18, the tobacco industry knows that, due to the challenge of giving up cigarettes in later life, it can exploit an opportunity to ensure a customer base for many years to come.

Minister for Health James Reilly’s reaffirmation yesterday that the drafting of a Bill to standardise packaging of tobacco products continues to progress is most welcome. Under the proposed legislation, the standard packaging of tobacco products will remove colours and logos. While there has been industry opposition to the move, research has shown that this form of packaging reduces brand appeal among younger smokers. Plans to ban smoking in cars while children are passengers is another significant step towards the protection of minors from the effects of second-hand smoke. Dr Reilly has promised legislation on the matter would be ready in the “next number of weeks”.

The benefits or otherwise of e-cigarettes remains controversial. Seen by proponents as a potential public health tool to help people quit smoking tobacco, others argue the electronic devices could become an entry point for smoking. By delivering pure nicotine without the hazardous chemicals contained in tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes could be prescribed medically in the same way nicotine is presently available in patch and inhaler form as an aid to quitting smoking. While banning their availability to under 18s make sense, more research is needed before a final determination on the safety of e-cigarettes can be made.

After becoming the first country to ban smoking in workplaces, Ireland can be rightly proud of its global leadership in tobacco control.