Saturday 21 September 2019

Smoke-free Ireland still 34 years off as 100 die every week

Far from ideal: But e-cigarettes are ‘the least worst choice’ for smokers
Far from ideal: But e-cigarettes are ‘the least worst choice’ for smokers
John Downing

John Downing

Ireland risks missing its tobacco-free target date of 2025 by 27 years, the HSE has warned.

The shocking delay is putting new pressure on Health Minister Simon Harris to soften his stance on e-cigarettes to help more smokers quit.

The Government is committed to being "tobacco-free" - with less than 5pc of the population still smokers - by 2025.

But the HSE report says that, based on current trends, this target will not be met until 2052.

At present, 18pc of Irish people smoke daily.

Smoking, which includes the effects of second-hand smoke, is deemed responsible for 100 deaths and more than 1,000 hospital episodes every week across the country.

"More of the same may not be enough to affect the step change required to move to the end game," the HSE report says.

Fine Gael's Senator Catherine Noone said the report indicated that a tobacco-free Ireland could still be decades away.

Ms Noone said the report concludes that the State should "continue to scan the horizon to understand and determine policy on the role of e-cigarettes and other new technologies and opportunities for the tobacco end game in Ireland".

She added that using e-cigarettes was "very far from ideal" but may be a "least worst option".

Ms Noone also pointed out that the Healthy Ireland programme says 37pc of people who quit smoking last year used e-cigarettes.

In the UK, official statistics show smoking in England has dipped just below 15pc for the first time.

Kevin Barron, an MP who campaigns against smoking, said during a recent House of Commons debate that smoking rates in Ireland are not reducing because of the failure of public health authorities to promote e-cigarettes.

Cancer agencies in the United Kingdom and US, as well as public health bodies in Canada and New Zealand, have all stated that the use of e-cigarettes is preferable to smoking.

Public Health England (PHE) has stated that vaping is at least 95pc safer.

Figures from PHE and the Office of National Statistics reveal one in two vapers has quit smoking and that vaping is almost entirely confined to those who have smoked.

In Ireland, the Department of Health said that a health technology assessment on e-cigarettes had been carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority which had reported "promising results".

"But there is currently a lack of evidence to recommend use as a smoking cessation aid and at present no e-cigarette product is licensed as a medicinal product in Ireland," a spokesman said.

Research on e-cigarettes is continuing but other treatments are preferred for now.

"While potentially safer than smoking, evidence on its long-term safety has yet to be established," the official added.

Irish Independent

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