Opinion Editorial

Tuesday 20 August 2019

War on tobacco worthy, but must not be rushed

IT was not so long ago that secondary school children were allowed to smoke in many of the more "advanced" schools around the country. Staff rooms were also often full of teachers puffing on pipes and cigarettes as pupils regularly entered and left.

Today, the idea of a 17-year-old taking a puff between classes seems as strange as quill pens or the regular floggings that were a feature of the Irish educational system for far too long. The world changes, and smokers have had to endure more change than most as their habit has moved from socially acceptable to pariah status.

The Government's latest plans to outlaw smoking anywhere in secondary school grounds and near creche facilities is another step in a long-term strategy to "de-normalise" smoking and ensure that fewer than one person in 20 smokes by 2025.

That is a noble objective, but like many others it is one to be pursued carefully.

The prohibition of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s did little more than cement the position of criminal gangs, and serves as a salutary warning. There is already plenty of evidence that high taxes in Ireland are a boon for crooks while also turning many otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.

There is also the question of equity. Many ordinary smokers deeply resent their outlaw status and insist, not without reason, that their behaviour is likely to be less lethal to others than speeding drivers or alcohol.

That is all true, but the truth is that most smokers wish they could kick the habit, and hundreds of thousands of smokers have done just that thanks to the policy of de-normalising smoking. The gradual escalation of this policy will undoubtedly save more people from premature death while also saving them money.

Health Minister James Reilly has had a mixed tenure in office, but he cannot be faulted for his commitment to fighting tobacco and the tobacco industry. He must now set himself measurable targets so he knows whether he really is on track with this grand ambition.

Irish Independent

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