YESTERDAY I asked my colleagues in the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to back my proposal to make the Leinster House campus a smoke-free zone. This is a small part of a more ambitious set of anti-tobacco measures.
There are four designated, heated, sheltered, outdoor smoking areas for parliamentarians and staff in the grounds of our national parliament. These addiction dens are hidden away from the prying eyes of photographers and the public.
While there is powerful symbolism in insisting that the community of nicotine addicts in Leinster House follow the same "no-smoking-anywhere-on-the-premises" rules that already apply to patients in many HSE hospitals, and which will apply in all of them by 2015, I am primarily suggesting this initiative for the smokers' own benefit.
Why should we facilitate them harming themselves? Are we really doing them a favour by acquiescing in their slow suicide attempts?
I have been accused of "nannying" or even "bullying" the smokers, many of whom will see the proposed measure as an infringement of their right to smoke.
What must be remembered is that the exercise of this "right" is actually a form of indenture, a slavery to addiction, an addiction which in most cases is originally developed by children under the age of legal consent. Their ability to choose freely and wisely has been compromised by their addiction.
I speak with some authority on this issue, being a former nicotine addict myself. I know the 'stinking thinking' that convinces the smoker that they want to smoke, the anxiety of not being able to smoke, the hunger for nicotine that grabs the chest in anticipation of a long-haul flight.
I understand the foolishness that is behind the thought "sure, one won't hurt me". I remember the resentment I felt at people who wanted to infringe my right to smoke. Why couldn't they go outside? Why did I have to?
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death and ill health in the Western world. If smoking were to disappear, lung cancer and chronic obstructive airways disease would become uncommon, and many crippling strokes and fatal heart attacks would be avoided.
People would live longer, and live better.
The money spent by families – disproportionately poor families in Ireland –would be available for other, more worthwhile purposes.
The health service would save billions.
Waiting lists would decline and spending on other undeserved health needs would go up.
I do not want to see a world where smokers are punished, but I do want to see one where their harm to others is abated.
It is increasingly recognised that smoking hurts non-smokers via "passive smoking", and that children are particularly vulnerable. The danger is acute if they are in the confines of a car with a smoker.
IN this regard, I am delighted that the Government has accepted legislation that I co-sponsored with senators Jillian Van Turnhout and Mark Daly to ban smoking in cars with children present, and anxiously await its expeditious processing by the Office of Tobacco Control so we can legislate it onto the statute books.
I want to see a world where the profit motive to foster addiction to carcinogens is abolished.
For this reason I have initiated a campaign – Stamp out Smoking 2030 (www.sos2030.com) – to try to persuade the European Union to declare its intent during Ireland's forthcoming presidency, to ban all commerce in tobacco by the year 2030. Why? The business plan of Big Tobacco is simple, and can be summarised as follows, "addict children to carcinogens".
This is a multi-billion euro business, one that continually needs to recruit new kids because they kill off their most committed clients.
Every pack-a-day smoker is worth €1000 a year to the tobacco industry.
The long lead-in time will allow tobacco farmers to diversify into food crops, cigarette factories to be re-tooled and pension funds to redirect their investments into more worthwhile areas.
If you want a demonstration of the power of nicotine addiction, look at the smokers outside any Irish maternity hospital. The compulsion is so strong that, amazingly, 15pc of otherwise loving responsible Irish mothers-to-be continue to smoke while pregnant – despite the knowledge that they are poisoning their unborn children.