independent

Friday 19 September 2014

Why talk to the tobacco industry?

Published 04/06/2013 | 05:42

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Friends invited me to their home for dinner in late May. Despite cold winds coming from the north we did manage to have the meal in the back garden. The woman sitting beside me smoked a few cigarettes. I noticed the horrific things it says on the packet, telling the smoker that cigarettes kill and cause infertility.

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There was also a gruesome graphic showing in no uncertain terms what smoking does to the body. Obviously it had no effect on my table neighbour. Later we were talking about how difficult it is to give up smoking and she did say she was going to do something about it. She is a young woman, sails, cycles and hill walks. I was surprised that someone so interested in outdoor pursuits would be a smoker.

When I was 11 I took my first and last drag of a fag. Fortunately my mother arrived on the scene and that was almost the end of my love affair with tobacco.

And then later as a theology student when we were given permission to smoke in the 1970s I tried a pipe and this time I could not manage it.

My late mother was a smoker as was her father before her. They both developed cancer of the larynx. Anyone who knows the terror of cancer of the oesophagus or larynx will appreciate what I am talking about.

My mother had a successful laryngectomy but never spoke again. For a woman who loved talking it was a cruel sentence. She was 67 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She spent the rest of her life until she died at 78 with a hole in her neck. All her food had to be liquidised. I still find bits of paper around the house on which she had written notes.

It so happened that I could manage to lip read what she was saying in some sort of a fashion but Dad had great difficulty trying to understand her. It was shocking.

In mid-May the Taoiseach and Finance and Justice Ministers received a deputation from the tobacco industry. Well-known oncologist Senator John Crown expressed his great annoyance that the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers would talk to anyone from the tobacco trade. The Government tried to explain that the meeting concerned itself with cigarette smuggling and how to fight it.

John Crown pointed out that the best he has ever been able to do to get an interview with a Government Minister after two years in the Oireachtas was a 20-minute meeting with the Minister for Health James Reilly.

It also transpired that TV presenter Bill O'Herlihy was at the meeting. The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee's smuggling campaign is managed by his company, O'Herlihy Communications.

I find it difficult to understand how someone who is so linked to sporting coverage on RTÉ should also be associated with the ITMAC. O'Herlihy Communications has also done PR work for the Government in the past. Is that not a conflict of interest?

John Crown points out that 50 people die every day in Ireland through smoking-related illnesses.

The dogs on the street know that cigarettes kill and put extreme pressure on our health system so can anyone explain to me why members of our Government would meet representatives of an organisation whose product kills people?

There is a ban on cigarette advertising, there is prohibition on smoking in public premises, cigarette packets carry the most gruesome information possible and the Government can entertain the spokespeople of the industry.

It really is another great example of an Irish solution to an Irish problem, a problem that kills people, helped kill my mother. And you know what – I never once heard a word of apology from the tobacco industry for the role they played in helping to kill my mother. I think the Government has some questions to answer.

Wexford People

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