July 4, 2011
MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly is to initiate new legislation which will compel tobacco companies to include combined text and photographic warnings on packaging.
Dr Reilly said he hoped the proposed legislation, which was discussed by Cabinet this week, will be enacted before the Oireachtas summer recess.
At an NUI Galway health promotion conference yesterday, he said existing legislation to curb tobacco smoking was “not tough enough” and described the tobacco industry as a “powerful enemy”.
Dr Reilly also told the conference that society must acknowledge that it “will no longer accept this burden that alcohol is placing on our families, our society, our health and our lives”.
The Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2011 is based on research carried out by the European Commission, including development of 42 different picture warnings developed in Brussels.
Packaging currently carries text warnings only, but the images aim to provide a further deterrent to tobacco consumption due to the negative health effects.
Former minister for health Mary Harney had also promised legislation to place graphic images on cigarette packets.
In 2008, 14 images, which had been selected by a panel from the Department of Health and the Office of Tobacco Control to be displayed on cigarette packets, went on public display. However, they never made it on to tobacco packaging.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, with 5,500 people dying each year of a tobacco-related disease, according to the Office of Tobacco Control.
Dr Reilly told the conference that “every so often, measures to curb consumption of such substances could clash with business interests”, but “if so, tough”.
There was “huge resistance [within the industry] in Europe” to initiating measures to curb brand identification in cigarette packaging, he said. Tobacco giant Philip Morris was threatening to sue the Australian government over its plan to be the first country to introduce plain, brand-less packaging for cigarettes.
Turning to alcohol consumption, Dr Reilly said it was responsible for approximately 100 deaths a month and for occupancy of 2,000 beds every night in hospitals around the State.
It was associated with 30 per cent of hospital emergency department attendances and 7 per cent of GP consultations.
He noted that one in four deaths in young men (aged 15-34 years) was due to alcohol consumption, compared with one in 12 deaths due to cancers and one in 25 deaths due to circulatory disease.
“We no longer accept that people have to die from cancer and heart disease, so how can we ignore the fact that so many more of our young people are dying from alcohol than anything else?
“There is no single intervention that alone can work to reduce the impacts of alcohol on our society,” Dr Reilly added.
He emphasised that a “sustained multisectoral approach to the alcohol epidemic, backed by a strong political and societal consensus”, was required.
The National Substance Misuse Strategy would be completed in the coming months, he said.
Preventing disease by promoting health and wellbeing across all sectors was a “major ingredient” of the current public health policy review, led by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, he said.
The Minister paid tribute to public health professionals, and his chief medical officer, in relation to the recent alerts, such as E.coli.
“If the situation had been handled in this country the way it was in Germany”, the Government would be receiving “terrible abuse and criticism, and rightly so”.
A platform of disease prevention was “more important now than ever”, due to limited resources, he said.
Ultimately “mainstreaming” of health promotion and disease prevention was required, to get measures “on to the desks of the policy makers outside the health sector” and keep them there.
This was one example of how the Government was committed to doing things differently.
He said his special action group on obesity would “examine and progress a number of issues, including nutritional labelling, calorie posting on restaurant menus and the treatment of obesity”.
Source: The Irish Times (July 1, 2011)