How to stop smoking


CONFIRMATION THAT the 2004 smoking ban has not had any appreciable effect on the numbers of smokers in the Republic is disappointing. Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, told a health conference this month that smoking prevalence, at 28 to 30 per cent, had not changed for the better since the ban was introduced. Although the prime objective of the ban was to protect people from the effects of second-hand smoke, there had been hopes that it would encourage smokers to quit.

But how realistic was this aspiration? A 2002 analysis by anti-smoking campaigner Stan Glantz concluded smoke-free workplaces not only protect non-smokers from the dangers of passive smoking, they also encourage smokers to quit or cut down. He found smoking prevalence reduced by 3.8 per cent after the introduction of a total smoke-free workplace. However, public smoking bans have failed to deliver a reduction in smoking prevalence.

Recently published Spanish research which set out to assess the impact of a 2006 smoking ban in the workplace found that three years after the law was implemented, a previously declining trend in smoking prevalence among some Spaniards was reversed. According to our own Office of Tobacco Control, in the 12 months following the introduction of the smoking ban in the Republic, the prevalence of smoking in the population declined from 25.4 per cent to 23.3 per cent. However, after three years smoking rates had crept up to levels seen before the legislation was implemented. Since then, smoking prevalence in the over-45s has increased.

The similarity of the Irish and Spanish findings shows that clean indoor air laws, although effective in reducing exposure to second-hand smoke, are unlikely to achieve a secondary objective of reducing the prevalence of smoking in the population. Meanwhile a report published by the Irish Heart Foundation advocates raising tobacco taxes; it suggests a €1 increase in the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes in the next budget would result in some 30,000 smokers quitting the habit.

In an acknowledgment of public health message fatigue, Dr Holohan told the conference: “It shouldn’t always be about ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’.” There is an important lesson here for Government: tackling lifestyle issues such as obesity and smoking require a more integrated and nuanced approach if they are to succeed.