Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 18 February, 1997

Written Answers. - Cigarette Smoking.

24. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health if his policy to ensure that more than 80 per cent of the population will be non-smokers by the year 2000 is still on target. [4365/97]

144. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health the resources and activities organised to promote Ash Wednesday as National No Smoking Day in view of the low level of public awareness of this important event. [4398/97]

145. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health if he will report on the consultative committee established to extend smoke controls; and if the voluntary code in his view is sufficient to protect the public, particularly children, from passive smoking. [4399/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 144 and 145 together.

Information available to me on smoking trends in the population indicates that the percentage of people overall who smoke continues to fall year on year. However, I have identified a need for more detailed information in this regard. Therefore I propose to commission a detailed lifestyle survey, incorporating more comprehensive information on smoking. This would include the reasons people smoke, with a view to informing decisions on further anti-smoking initiatives.

Health promotion initiatives under way to mark Ash Wednesday include refocusing on the Health Promotion Unit's major multi-media campaign, “Say what you like, smoking kills” which uses black humour to highlight the harmful effects of smoking. I have also recently launched the Smoking Target Action Group's new campaign which looks at the effects of passive smoking on children. This campaign uses print materials and radio to heighten awareness of this issue and has already received favourable attention from the media. In addition, anti-smoking [136] schools based programmes are ongoing and public information materials are available from the Health Promotion Unit. Action against smoking also continues at health board level and in the voluntary sector.

A range of other measures are also in place to help curtail tobacco consumption. Environmental controls on smoking were strengthened and extended in 1996. Smoking is prohibited in many areas frequented by children. These include primary schools, secondary schools, child care centres, pre-schools, crèches, play groups, day nurseries or other services which cater for children. Smoking is also prohibited in public areas in banks, building societies, barber shops, hairdressing salons, bowling alleys, bingo halls, bridge centres, hospitals, doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms, taxis and hackney cabs. I have also introduced new restrictions on smoking in cafes, canteens, restaurants and snack bars providing for specified non-smoking areas. In addition, the Deputy will be aware that taxation on tobacco was increased in the recent budget. He will also be interested to learn that a further cut of 5 per cent will be made in the maximum allowable expenditure by tobacco companies on advertising and sponsorship for 1997. Tobacco company budgets were also cut by 5 per cent in 1996.

The Deputy refers in his question to a committee and I presume he is referring to a committee which sat some years ago to look at the question of extending existing smoking controls to the workplace. Arising out of this committee's work, an information resource, “Working together for cleaner air,” containing a Voluntary Code on Smoking in the Workplace, was developed by the Health Promotion Unit of my Department with the support of the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Health and Safety Authority, and endorsed by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The booklet is aimed at gaining consensus on smoking control policies in the workplace and has been widely disseminated. An evaluation of this initiative is almost complete and I am pleased to say that, based on the preliminary feedback available to me, there appears to be a consensus in industry that the voluntary approach is effective in the workplace.