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Call to tackle sunbeds and smoking

The incoming government has been urged to press ahead with a ban on children using sunbeds and renew anti-smoking efforts to cut cancer rates.

As new research showed smokers light up an average 23 cigarettes a day - 10 more than last year - the Irish Cancer Society demanded a national tobacco strategy.

The lobby group called for a sunbed ban for under 18s and fair-skinned adults and an extension for the age groups being screened for breast and bowel cancer.

Kathleen O'Meara, of the Irish Cancer Society, warned cancer was on the rise with one in three people expected to be diagnosed with the illness in Ireland at some point in their lives.

"The good news is that we can cut cancer rates and improve survival rates if we take action now which is why we are setting out a three-point plan for the new government," Ms O'Meara said.

Health Minister Mary Harney last year said the Public Health (Sunbeds) Bill had been approved by cabinet and she also suggested an outright ban on ultra-violet tanning.

No bill has been brought before the Oireachtas.

The lobby group also said cutting the smoking rate was one of the biggest challenges, and called on the new government to introduce community support for quitters, highlight the dangers of smoking, tackle smuggling and ensure cigarette prices are high.

"We won't tackle cancer if we don't tackle tobacco because smoking causes 30pc of all cancers," Ms O'Meara said.

"We want the new government to put together a plan that brings the smoking rate down to 20pc by the year 2020."

The launch coincided with new research from Aviva Health Insurance which revealed almost a quarter of those who fill out their online health check are smokers.

The company said Irish smokers consume an average of 23 cigarettes every day, costing the smoker approximately €293.25 each month and €3,519 per year.

Women are smoking double the amount of cigarettes than men, each with an average of 12 more.

Co Longford has the highest number of smokers in the country, with 30pc of respondents reporting they light up, while Co Monaghan recorded the lowest for the second year in a row with 16pc.

The statistics were collected via Aviva's online health check, completed by 18,845 people from January 2008 to December 2010.

Ms O'Meara said that by 2020 there will be more than 40,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed every year.

"The new government must have cancer high on its health agenda if we are to make real headway in cutting cancer rates and increasing survival rates in Ireland," she said.

PA Media