Reilly speaks of brother and father at cancer conference

Minister for Health says hatred of smoking both personal and professional

Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly TD with his proposal to introduce standardised/plain packaging of tobacco products, which was approved by the Government. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times  Minister for Health Dr James Reilly pictured earlier this week announcing  his proposal to introduce new packaging for tobacco products without branding. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill / THE IRISH TIMES.

Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly TD with his proposal to introduce standardised/plain packaging of tobacco products, which was approved by the Government. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times Minister for Health Dr James Reilly pictured earlier this week announcing his proposal to introduce new packaging for tobacco products without branding. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill / THE IRISH TIMES.

 

RONAN McGREEVY

Minister for Health James Reilly has recalled his brother’s death from smoking and his father, who was blind for the last 14 years of his life as a result of smoking, in an emotional speech at a cancer conference today.

Dr Reilly received two standing ovations at the European Week against Cancer conference hosted by the Irish Cancer Society where he reiterated his determination to take on the tobacco industry.

He said his stance was both professional, given his experiences as a doctor, and personal.

“What freedom have you got if you are already addicted? I lost a brother to smoking. He was an epidemiologist (public health specialist) and he couldn’t kick it and he died at the age of 60.

“My father, a doctor, had a stroke at 66 and spent the last 14 years of his life blind because of smoking. I don’t want other families to endure it.

“I don’t make any apology for taking the stand has taken and our Taoiseach has backed me to the hilt on this.”

He ridiculed the tobacco industry’s contention that plain packaging, set to be introduced next year, would be a boost to smugglers. He said that it would actually act as a deterrent to tobacco smugglers because the cigarettes would have to be repackaged.

Ireland will become only the second country in the world after Australia to introduce packaging without branding or logos for all cigarettes if measures proposed by Dr Reilly and approved by the Government are implemented.

Dr Reilly said he had written to the EU Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg suggesting that he use his influence with the EU Commission to back Australia at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Four tobacco manufacturing countries - Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Cuba - have taken legal action against Australia at the WTO.

Dr Reilly said the Taoiseach Enda Kenny had also written to the EU President for Manuel Barroso.o seeking his support too at the WTO for Australia.

In addition the tobacco control unit at the Department of Health has been beefed up.

Jonathan Liberman, who was part of the Australian Government’s advisory group on plain packaging, said the tobacco industry there had been unsuccessful in stopping the introduction of plain packaging last December.

He said the industry had set up a front group of tobacco retailers who had taken out advertisements in prime time television in the Australian media against it.

He mantained the group, which was supposed to have been spontaneously set up, had been instead set up with AUS$5.3 million from the three major Australian tobacco manufacturers.

Mr Liberman, who spoke at the conference, said the tobacco industry had taken three different legal actions against the Australian Government.

A comprehensive evaluation is currently under way and the first research findings are due at the end of this year. “We are all convinced that the evidence will confirm the basis on which we took this decision,” he said.

Mr Liberman also said that the number of calls to quit lines went up and smokers complained about the taste of the cigarettes though nothing had changed.

He stressed that the measure was unlikely to see a reduction in smoking numbers in the short term, but would be targeted at protecting young people from smoking.