Politics

HSE considers making tobacco firms pay for related health costs

A complete ban on the sale of tobacco and a sharp reduction in the number of outlets allowed to sell tobacco products are among strategies being explored to help eradicate cigarette smoking in Ireland.

Making the major tobacco companies pay for massive health costs shouldered by the State caring for people who are sick or dying as a result of nicotine addiction is another option being explored by an office of the HSE.

Each week in Ireland, 100 people die and 1,000 people are hospitalised because of tobacco use, according to the HSE.

Surveys are to be conducted early next year to explore public support for “innovative” strategies to bring about the “endgame” for cigarette smoking, with the results to feed into a report for the Tobacco-Free Ireland Strategic Programme Plan 2022.

The research is to explore levels of public support for banning or severely limiting the sale of tobacco products, including the proposed limiting of tobacco sales to a substantially reduced number of licensed retailers, or to pharmacies only.

The research will also explore banning the sale of tobacco products near schools and universities, and reducing the affordability of tobacco products by way of tax increases of up to 20 per cent a year.

Also to be examined will be levels of support for reducing the nicotine content of tobacco products to make them less addictive, banning filters and a requirement that individual cigarettes – as well as packets – should bear health warnings.

Moves targeting the tobacco industry that will be explored include banning tobacco representatives from meeting government, and requiring tobacco companies to pay the health service for tobacco-related health costs.

It is estimated that one out of every three young people who take up smoking will die from a smoking-related illness.

Smoking among teenagers

While cigarette smoking among young Irish people had been falling from the mid-1990s, that trend has changed in more recent years and rates of cigarette usage are creeping up again among teenagers.

Earlier this month, New Zealand announced it is to introduce a law next year so that anyone born after 2008 will not be able to buy cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime.

The aim of the legislation is to try to stop young people from ever starting to smoke.

Smoking, and exposure to second-hand smoke, was estimated to cost the Irish health service €172 million annually in a 2016 study by HSE Tobacco Free Ireland.

The study estimated that every year more than 300,000 bed days, almost 21,500 day cases, and 33,615 inpatient hospital admissions, were due to tobacco-related illnesses.

The research by the HSE on new proposals for bringing about an endgame for tobacco use here is to feed into a report scheduled for the spring of 2022.

The HSE’s Tobacco Free Ireland strategy was set up to take responsibility for and drive policy in the area of tobacco control, as part of a programme decided by the Department of Health in 2013.

However, it is believed by many experts in the area that the 2013 strategy, which aimed to reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking to below 5 per cent of the population by 2025, is not going to be successful.


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