Smoking greatest danger to public health, says Reilly


Tobacco consumption is the greatest threat to public health that Ireland faces, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has said. He said that as a doctor, with decades of experience, he had seen at first hand the damage it caused.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland,” he added. “Each year, more than 5,200 of our people die prematurely from diseases caused by tobacco use, which represents 19 per cent of all deaths.”

Dr Reilly said smokers lost an average of 10 to 15 years of quality life and had the highest rates of absenteeism. Smoking caused 90 per cent of all cases of emphysema and was the main cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“Treating tobacco-related illnesses accounted for €280 million, or nearly 10 per cent of overall acute budgets, in a 2008 study on the costs of acute care.”

The Minister was introducing the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2013, in response to a European Court judgment requiring Ireland to end setting a mandatory pricing level below which cigarette prices could not be lowered. Some promotions, such as “three for the price of two”, “happy hour” and “buy one, get one”, would be prohibited.

Dr Reilly said it was important to say his department and the HSE were continuously monitoring the evolving marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. Cigarette packets, he added, would contain graphic images from next month.

Gross intolerance

Independent TD Finian McGrath appealed for a “reasonable, balanced and fair hearing”, adding that attacking or marginalising smokers was unacceptable. “I am a smoker and I am addicted to cigarettes,” he said. “However, trying to drive me and others out of the Dáil precincts, as Senator John Crown and others have suggested . . . pushing us out on to Kildare Street, smacks of gross intolerance.”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor (FG) said Mr McGrath was involved in “fantasy politics”, adding she understood it was difficult to give up smoking.

“I ask the deputy to try hard to do so because people can do it,” she added. “I smoked cigarettes for 20 years and was successful in being able to stop.”