Tobacco advertising and sponsorship banned

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin, last night announced a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship as part of…

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin, last night announced a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship as part of an aggressive Government strategy to halt the reported increase in smoking among children and teenagers.

"One of the most disturbing facts about smoking is that, for the majority of smokers, the addiction begins in their childhood or teenage years," he said. The ban, which will take effect from July 1st, is in line with a European Parliament directive banning most tobacco advertising and sponsorship, he said.

"The tobacco industry tell us that smoking is a simple matter of choice but, once hooked, the smoker has little choice but to continue to satisfy that deadly addiction. The global marketing practices of the tobacco industry target young people," said Mr Martin.

While the percentage of the adult population smoking has dropped from 44 per cent in the early 1970s to 30 per cent, due largely to various health initiatives, smoking-related illness still accounts for about 7,000 deaths each year in Ireland, he said.

"The reality is that tobacco-related illnesses kill half of those who use tobacco. I am determined to alter for the better that dreadful statistic," he said. He regarded the battle against smoking as one of the most important public-health challenges facing Ireland in the new millennium.

The treatment of these illnesses also imposed an enormous and costly burden, not just on the health services but on industry through absenteeism.

Mr Martin, speaking at a Stop Smoking seminar in Cork, organised by Pharmacial Corporation, stressed that he appreciated the difficulty smokers faced in trying to break free from a long-established addiction and he recognised the need to help those trying to quit smoking.

He pointed out that the Tobacco Free Policy Group which he established to help reduce smoking had recommended that nicotine replacement therapy be made available to people participating in smoking cessation programmes.

The Minister pointed out that he had already brought a Bill before the Oireachtas raising the age limit for the sale of tobacco products to 18 years from the current level of 16 and raising fines for selling such products to under-age persons from £500 to £1,500 as a deterrent to retailers.

Mr Frank Cullen, co-ordinating director of the National Newspapers of Ireland, said there was "a very real concern that a ban on tobacco advertising will lead to a domino effect on other forms of advertising."

He said the NNI had absolutely no argument with the health issues motivating the ban. "Most important for newspapers is the principle of freedom of commercial speech. No government should ban the advertising of a product which you can buy legally and use legally," he said.

Mr Cullen also warned that the introduction of the ban in Ireland in advance of a similar move in the United Kingdom would mean that tobacco advertising budgets would transfer to British newspapers on sale in the Republic.

Under the EU directive, the ban does not have to be implemented for at least another year, according to Mr Cullen. He said the NNI had not had to resort to legal action in the past but, should the Minister break with precedent, it would consider all options, Mr Cullen added.

Last night's seminar also heard from a smoking cessation expert, Mr David M. Graham, who pointed out that tobacco use was the single largest cause of preventable death and disease worldwide, currently accounting for three million deaths a year globally and predicted to rise to 10 million within the next 20 years unless current trends are changed.

It has been the policy of The Irish Times for several years not to carry tobacco advertising.