HEALTH Minister James Reilly said there is a real job of work to be done in educating people in lower income groups about the risks of smoking.
He was commenting on statistics from the Irish Cancer Society showing the health gap in Ireland was leading to starkly higher rates of cancers among deprived communities.
Minister Reilly said it was one thing to be told by the teacher in school that smoking causes cancer, and another to go home and have parents lighting up.
"It is a case of actions speaking louder than words. Parents have to decide, do they want it inflicted on (their) child?" he asked.
The minister was attending the launch of the society's five-year strategy document, which pledges to work more at community level in less well-off areas to raise more awareness of how lifestyle changes can reduce the risks of developing the disease.
He said he was in favour of a ban on smoking in cars and only allowing plain packaging on cigarette packets so that "there is no fancy packaging to attract the eye".
Commenting on fears expressed by the organisation's chairman, Dr John Kennedy, that some poorer people could suffer delayed diagnosis because they could not afford to go to the GP, the minister said he did not believe proposals to take 40,000 medical cards from people this year would exacerbate this.
"Around 20,000 of those medical cards are for people over 70 who are earning €600 a week per individual. If it's a couple that's €1,200.
"All those people whether over 70 or under 70 will still have access to a GP card, so they will still have free access to a doctor to make the diagnosis. That is a key point to make," he said.
He defended the scheme to recruit 1,000 graduate nurses on salaries of €22,000, saying the jobs offered nurses a chance to stay at home rather than emigrate. Commenting on claims that some graduate nurses were coming under extreme pressure from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation not to apply for them he said he thought it was "regrettable" and said the recruitment would continue.