Martin prepares to introduce new crackdown on smoking
Irish society had allowed the promotion of death and disease under the guise of personal freedom, the Minister for Health told the Dail during a debate on curbing cigarette-smoking.
"There is something infinitely sad about citizens cherishing the right to slowly kill themselves," said Mr Martin.
"That kind of talk - indeed, the kind of talk suggesting that a tobacco-free society is an unrealistic objective - is music to the ears of the tobacco industry. For that reason, I want to nail the popular myth that the Government is prepared to collude with the tobacco industry because of the contribution cigarette taxes make to the economy."
The Minister said he would soon introduce a new Miscellaneous Health Provisions Bill banning the sale of cigarettes to those under 18 years. Prices would be maintained at a high level, packet sizes of less than 20 would be banned, advertisements and sponsorship would be outlawed and more resources would go to health boards to improve compliance with the law.
Mr Martin accused the tobacco industry of falsifying the position. "Yes, of course, smokers have rights. Let me tell the House about the rights smokers have. They have the right to know what's in a tobacco product.
They have the right to know the harm smoking can do them. They have the right to know that smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to break. They have the right to be protected from this product when they are children."
The Minister was responding to a Fine Gael private member's Bill proposing a series of measures to combat cigarette-smoking, including a prohibition on the sale of cigarettes to those under 18. The current fine of £500 for the under-age sale of cigarettes would be increased to £2,500, while a person convicted of a second or further offence would be liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or to a term of imprisonment of six months or community service.
Moving the Tobacco (Health, Promotion and Protection) (Amendment) Bill, the Fine Gael spokesman on health, Mr Alan Shatter, said it would not in itself solve the problem of youth smoking. "It is merely one of the many initiatives required if we are to truly tackle the enormous health problems created by smoking within our society. If we are to not merely reduce, but to eventually eliminate, youth smoking, a broad range of other initiatives are required."
Mr Shatter said it was estimated that 20 per cent of all deaths annually in the Republic were attributable to tobacco-related illnesses.
Smoking was the single biggest cause of preventable death in Ireland.
The Labour spokeswoman on health, Ms Liz McManus, said that they all knew people whose health was breaking down because of their smoking habit. "Some are suffering from chronic obstructive airways disease, which can only be treated by giving up cigarettes. They know the damage being done to their health every time they draw breath and yet they are incapable of kicking the habit.
"Yet this Government, and it can be said other governments before it, have never faced up to the nature of this addiction." The House will vote on the Bill tonight.