Irish officials may adopt UK scheme to cut smoking rates


Northeast project cuts smoking rates by a quarter, writes RONAN McGREEVY

AN INITIATIVE which has cut smoking rates by a quarter in one of the poorest parts of England is being considered here.

HSE, gardaí, Department of Health and the Revenue Commissioners officials all met Prof Eugene Milne from the North East Strategic Health Authority in Britain yesterday.

Prof Milne delivered the annual Irish Cancer Society’s Charles Cully lecture yesterday in which he spoke about the Fresh Smoke Free North East Project. He says it has cut smoking rates in the areas around the cities of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough from 29 per cent of the adult population in 2005 to 22 per cent in 2009, a drop of 24 per cent.

There has also been a dramatic fall off in smoking-related illnesses, with coronary heart disease down by 26.4 per cent, acute myocardial infarction falling by 27.2 per cent and circulatory disease dropping by 21.4 per cent.

Fresh has targeted poorer communities where smoking rates are highest. It offers NHS-backed smoking cessation services, which target 50,000 smokers a year.

Public health campaigns have successfully targeted pregnant mothers who smoke, parents who smoke in the home and the dangers of illicit tobacco.

A campaign against tobacco smuggling has been very successful and is being examined by the gardaí and Revenue Commissioners. Community workers have been involved in highlighting how smuggled cigarettes are being targeted at children and there has been a 39 per cent decrease in the northeast region in sales of illicit tobacco in the past five years.

Prof Milne said the campaign’s success was helped by the introduction of the workplace ban on smoking in England in 2007.

However, smoking rates have still fallen in the northeast at a higher rate than in the rest of England.

“There is not a magic formula,” he said. “We are pressing on a lot of fronts and it is important to sustain that pressure over a long period of time.”

The Fresh approach is being championed by the Irish Cancer Society, which is lobbying for a similar initiative to be introduced in to Ireland. Chief executive John McCormack said the presence of so many State agencies at yesterday’s lecture showed that it was being examined closely here.

“We are not doing anything like the 50,000 who are accessing smoking cessation services in the northeast on a regular basis,” said Mr McCormack. “We have had a very successful Quit campaign, but it needs to be sustained.

“We are hoping that despite the financial challenges that the HSE will continue the Quit campaign. We know from the drink driving law that we can change people’s behaviour.”

Separately, the Irish Cancer Society announced yesterday the appointment of Prof John Fitzpatrick as its new head of research.

Prof Fitzpatrick said the focus would be on encouraging collaboration in research and developing a cancer research centre which would necessitate a major increase in funding.

He is a former professor of surgery and a consultant urologist at the Mater hospital and UCD since 1986.