Sunday 11 December 2016

Even tougher anti-smoking laws could be on the way

Health Minister reiterates his support for workplace ban as McGrath comes under fire

Eilish O'Regan and Cormac McQuinn

Published 17/05/2016 | 02:30

Health Minister Simon Harris 'fully supports smoking ban.' Photo: RollingNews.ie
Health Minister Simon Harris 'fully supports smoking ban.' Photo: RollingNews.ie
Finian McGrath with kidney transplant patient Philip Mitchell from Swords and his wife Irene at the official opening of the newly refurbished St Damien’s Ward at the National Kidney Transplant Centre in Beaumont Hospital yesterday. Photo: Colin Keegan

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is committed to tougher anti-smoking laws as Finian McGrath came under fire for his remarks on the workplace smoking ban.

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As anti-smoking organisations and politicians attacked Super Junior Disabilities Minister Mr McGrath for his "personal view" that pubs should have designated indoor smoking sections, Mr Harris reiterated his support for the ban.

"I absolutely and fully support the smoking ban as introduced some years ago," he said, adding that he is committed to achieving "tobacco-free status" here by 2025.

Price hikes on cigarettes to help fund cuts to the USC and the implementation of plans for plain packaging are among the measures planned by the Government to bring smoking rates down from almost 20pc to 5pc.

"Great progress has been made in this public health policy area over the period of successive governments and I intend to continue to support and develop such policies," Mr Harris said.

Mr McGrath argued in an interview at the weekend that ventilated indoor smoking areas "work in other EU countries" like Portugal and Germany.

Finian McGrath with kidney transplant patient Philip Mitchell from Swords and his wife Irene at the official opening of the newly refurbished St Damien’s Ward at the National Kidney Transplant Centre in Beaumont Hospital yesterday. Photo: Colin Keegan
Finian McGrath with kidney transplant patient Philip Mitchell from Swords and his wife Irene at the official opening of the newly refurbished St Damien’s Ward at the National Kidney Transplant Centre in Beaumont Hospital yesterday. Photo: Colin Keegan

A smoker himself, Mr McGrath last night insisted he doesn't regret what he said and added that smokers "are fed up with being pushed around".

A statement by Action on Smoking and Health Ireland (ASH) said it would be "deeply concerned that any consideration might be given to undermining the Workplace Smoking Legislation".

"This is one of the most progressive and successful pieces of health legislation introduced in recent years," its chairman Dr Patrick Doorley said.

The Irish Cancer Society said Mr McGrath's remarks were "unhelpful and irresponsible".

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin - who was the health minister who introduced the ban, which came into effect in 2004 - recalled that Mr McGrath was one of the few TDs to oppose his plan at the time.

"I think it's important that a person now in the position Finian is in would not just complain and say he's fed up of being pushed around because he's a smoker."

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, he called on Mr McGrath to "embrace the importance of really being strong in terms of creating a tobacco-free society".

Former health minister Dr James Reilly said the reintroduction of designated smoking areas would be "regressive".

"I think Finian McGrath needs to think now more as a minister with responsibility relating to disability and health rather than as somebody who smokes," the former TD said.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said the smoking ban helped her to give up cigarettes around 10 years ago: "There are people who would say you should lead by example. I'm a reformed smoker myself," she said.

"The junior minister should look at the impact of the smoking ban. I can say with my hand on my heart it definitely helped me to give up smoking."

Ms O'Reilly said that workers in the service industry have "a right to a smoke-free workplace and I don't think he has any right to challenge them on that".

Mr McGrath said he tried to give up smoking "every day", saying that on good days he had as few as five cigarettes, down from 15 to 20. "I will always give my personal views," he said, but added that he supports the Government policy of trying to reduce smoking.

However, he also defended his remarks on designated smoking areas, saying smokers "are fed up with being pushed around... I am only human. I am addicted to nicotine. Every day I try to give up cigarettes. The bottom line is we need a new approach as well, and listen to people who have a problem with smoking and listen to our views."

The Dublin Bay North TD said "people need to calm down a bit", adding: "I don't regret having a personal view as a minister."

Mr McGrath confirmed that he supported the Government's policy of cigarette tax increases to help fund cuts to the USC, though he said he does have concerns "about the issue of the high cost of cigarettes leading to the involvement of criminal gangs".

Mr McGrath was speaking as he officially opened the newly refurbished €5.95m St Damien's Ward at the National Kidney Transplant Centre in Dublin's Beaumont Hospital.

Irish Independent

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