Commissioner Byrne supports Irish smoking ban


A plan by the Minister for Health, Mr Martin, to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants places was given support today from the European Union's (EU) top health official, who accused the tobacco industry of aiming products at youth.

The ban will take effect from early 2004 despite fears from the bar and restaurant industry that profits will be hit.

"Are we going to put into the balance the health of the public against profits? I am sure the population of Ireland and other places in the EU (don't) want (that)," said Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Mr David Byrne.

"I believe the tobacco industry is manipulating and misleading people and targeting young people and adolescents because they realise that if they get them young, they're hooked," he told a news conference at the 12th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Helsinki.

"I don't meet the industry any more... It is a pointless exercise because we have different aims in mind. I want to close them down, they want to make profits," he added.

The World Health Organisation estimates that some 4-5 million people die each year from smoking and that will rise to 10-11 million by 2030.

Cancer experts said today the European Commission was looking into putting gory images of diseased organs on cigarette packets.

Mr Byrne said the commission was also considering a minimum tax on cigarettes, but the 15-member bloc lacked the power to harmonise prices. He also supported finding alternative crops for Europe's tobacco growers as part of phasing out current subsidies.