Reilly wants smoke ban extended to public areas

Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 01:00

SMOKING WILL be banned in public parks, on beaches and boardwalks and in sportsgrounds, if the Minister for Health has his way.

At a conference hosted by the Irish Heart Foundation yesterday, James Reilly said he wanted to “go a step further” than banning smoking in cars with children.

“It is essential that we denormalise smoking,” Dr Reilly said.

“We are getting more support for my plans to ban smoking in cars, but I would like to go further. I would like to do what they’ve done in New York, where smoking is banned in parks and on beaches, where children are likely to be and observe behaviour, because that is where they are and they learn what ‘big’ people do. So, I certainly intend to pursue that at Cabinet.”

If society was determined to tackle issues such as smoking and obesity, “we need to take the critics head on and take the action that is required”.

Those determined to improve the nation’s health must reject the accusations of those, many with vested interests, that the State was behaving as a “nanny state,” Dr Reilly said. “The State has a duty of care to its citizens.”

Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg last year signed into law a Bill prohibiting smoking within the city’s parks, beaches and on pedestrian plazas. When it came into force, smoking was banned in these places, as well as on boardwalks, public golf courses and sportsgrounds.

Smoking had already been banned in playgrounds and at public swimming pools.

According to the New York City parks department, enforcement of the ban is “mostly by New Yorkers themselves”.

In its policy statement, it says: “We expect that New Yorkers will ask people to follow the law and stop smoking . . . However, people who violate the new law could receive a $50 ticket [fine].”

Studies cited by the New York parks department suggest sitting three feet away from a smoker outdoors could expose a person to the same level of second-hand smoke as if they were sitting indoors with someone smoking.

Dr Reilly, extending his talk to refer to measures to tackle obesity, said the State had a duty to make citizens aware of preventable risks.

“We’re not going to take choices away from people. We want them to make informed choices, so that when they do go into a restaurant they know the calorie content of each individual dish . . . and they are influenced by that, there is no question.”

A World Health Organisation report from 2009 said that 29 per cent of Irish people still smoked. It is estimated to cost the Irish economy at least €1 million a day in lost productivity, while smoking-related illnesses cost the State about €2 billion a year.