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Strong Leadership and Political Commitment to Tobacco Control needed to reduce smoking rates

2009 a very significant year for Tobacco Control

Strong leadership and political commitment which keep Tobacco Control as a top Government priority are needed to reduce smoking rates, the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC) stated today (July 12) at the publication of its 2009 Annual Report.

The Office said 2009 was a very significant year for tobacco control in Ireland with the removal of point of sale advertising and display of tobacco products and the establishment of a national register of licensed tobacco retailers.

OTC Chairperson Ms Norma Cronin said these pieces of legislation kept Ireland at the forefront of global policy initiatives and would help to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking in the longer term.

"Initial findings from research into the impact of removal of point of sale advertising suggests that the measure is already having a positive effect,” she said. A survey of young people commissioned by the Office during 2009 showed that:

  • Support for the ban grew from 56% before it was introduced to 68% afterwards.

  • Before the ban 81% could recall seeing any cigarette or tobacco packs in shops in the previous month. Afterwards this dropped to less than 25%.

  • 33% thought they or their friends could successfully buy cigarettes before the ban while afterwards only 25% thought they could get away with it.

OTC research in 2009 also showed a high degree of compliance with 98% of stores compliant with the legislation regarding the display of tobacco advertising and 97% of stores were compliant with the legislation regarding the display of tobacco products for sale in stores.

Other research commissioned by the OTC during 2009 included The National Tobacco Retail Audit – 2009 Monitoring Report which showed that the percentage of retailers refusing to sell cigarettes to under 18 year olds increased by eight points to 68%. This compared to a 60% refusal rate in 2008 and 52% in 2007.

During 2009 the OTC worked with the Ulster GAA Council and the Ulster Cancer Foundation to organise the first-ever voluntary smoke free stadium GAA match. This was held as part of the Ulster GAA championship and proved successful. A study carried out before the event found that 83% of those who attended a stadium event in the previous year supported smoke free stadia and that 72% of smokers supported smoke free stadia.

Ms. Cronin emphasised that the findings from these surveys all showed that progress was made in tackling tobacco in 2009, but she stressed that the battle to protect people against the scourge of tobacco is a long term one – which must continue to be resourced and prioritised.

"Tobacco is the leading cause of premature death and illhealth in Ireland as there are 6,000 deaths each year from tobacco related diseases. In terms of overall population smoking rates, the most recent Slán survey indicated a smoking prevalence rate of 29 per cent. This rate is high by international standards and in fact much higher than England.

We need to build on our ground breaking legislation and other actions to deliver reduced smoking rates and a decrease in tobacco related deaths. Included in this we need sustained investment in comprehensive social marketing campaigns to encourage people to quit smoking. We know that the more times people try to quit the greater their chances of succeeding. These campaigns are also an effective way to discourage young people from taking up smoking,” she said.

Ms. Cronin commended that the work of the HSE’s Environmental Health Officers in enforcing Tobacco Control legislation and highlights from the 2009 National Tobacco Control Inspection programme include:

  • 25 cases taken for non-compliance with smoke-free workplace legislation, resulting in 19 convictions. 11 of these were for permitting smoking in non-compliant outdoor areas.

  • Eight cases taken for sales to minors offences, resulting in six convictions.

The launch of the Office’s 2009 Report follows the recent announcement that the Office is to merge into the HSE in 2011 as part of the Government’s ongoing rationalisation programme for state agencies. The OTC has welcomed this move and said it is crucial that tobacco control remains a political and public health priority.

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FURTHER INFORMATION:

Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731.

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