Graham Clifford: If Government is serious it should go the whole hog and ban cigarettes
Of all the victims of today's Budget bruising, one member of society who will attract little or no sympathy is the smoker.
It's expected the cost of cigarettes will increase marginally, though charities such as the Irish Cancer Society have called on Michael Noonan to hike the price by a whopping 60 cent per pack.
Already Ireland is the most expensive country in Europe in which to be a smoker (an average pack of 20 costs about €10 here compared with €5 in Germany) and the Government tells us that price hikes will act as deterrents – the fact that it's a vicious addiction is beside the point.
To great fanfare, Health Minister James Reilly told us recently that he wanted Ireland to be 'tobacco-free' by 2025.
If you're a smoker, you better plan on moving elsewhere because we don't want your like around here.
Indeed, in recent days, Kerry General Hospital in Tralee announced that smoking would be banned across its entire campus from January 2014.
It's the latest medical facility to go 'smoke-free' with similar bans in place at hospitals such as the Mater and St Vincent's in Dublin, Waterford Regional, Galway University Hospitals and the Mid-West Regional Hospital in Limerick.
Under a section on the Mater Hospital's website entitled 'what about the right to smoke?', we are told in no uncertain terms "there is no legal right to smoke in Irish law BUT there is a legal obligation on the hospital to provide a safe and comfortable environment for patients, staff and visitors by removing the very serious health risks associated with tobacco smoke".
The Mater provides 'free nicotine-replacement therapy' to smokers who find they can't kick the addiction during their short stay in hospital.
It wouldn't take a genius to work out that you have a right to smoke as cigarettes are sold legally in this country! If the Government is serious about stamping out the problem, why don't they consider banning cigarettes altogether? Oh, I forgot, revenues from the industry are massive and the tobacco lobby group more powerful than most.
The HSE says that 39pc of its hospitals are now smoke-free and that by 2015 every medical facility in the country will have signed up to its policy.
Attempts to stop young people starting to smoke are obviously welcomed but has anyone really thought about the patient who has smoked for most of their lives and for whom a stay in hospital can be hugely stressful?
Bureaucrats then hit them with the double whammy of a ban on smoking – again, a legalised activity.
The smoke-free model is also in use across the water, and while visiting a friend outside London last year, I encountered shivering, ill and desperate old women pulling on the last drag of their cigarettes as the rain drenched their fluffy pink dressing gowns far from the front doors of the hospital.
I should have rolled down the window and said: "Get a nicotine-replacement patch and you'll be grand, dear."
The idea of trying to get smokers to kick the habit when they are already in hospital with health concerns is as insulting as it is ridiculous. Most smokers want to quit, they know it's a filthy habit that could kill them but the fact is they are addicts.
Again, addicted to a drug the Government refuses to ban. If they give up, it will be on their terms – not the HSE's.
And what of patients with mental health problems? In their darkest hour, is some security guard really going to prevent them from smoking if they feel it's what they need to deal with their anxiety?
As a former smoker, I know how vile a habit it is and the destruction it can cause. But here's the reality – at least 22pc of Irish people smoke (despite the huge cost, the ban in public houses and workplaces, and the stigma towards smokers).
Kicking the habit is perhaps the most difficult thing most smokers will ever do. The last thing they need is to be forced into doing it when they are at their lowest ebb. It simply won't work.
And what of those smokers who are dealing with the trauma of seeing a loved one sick or dying in hospital? Instead of having smoking shelters for them away from the main hospital entrances and exits, we're going to tell them to leave the hospital grounds to light up.
It's lazy policy, which aims to create more headlines than reformed smokers – and where are the doctors and nurses who smoke themselves supposed to go for a puff?