Contribution to the Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

October 9th, 2014 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I spoke on another health Bill last week. This legislation will bring us a step further. It follows the commitment made by the previous Minister for Health to introduce legislation to ban smoking in cars. That commitment was made following the debate on the Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, which originated as a Private Members’ Bill in the Seanad. I am delighted to see that Professor Crown, who introduced that Bill, is present for this evening’s debate. He is listening to everyone who has something to contribute to the discussion on the important Bill before the House. When this Bill, which will protect children, is considered alongside the Bill we debated last week – the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 – it is clear that the Government is committed to tackling smoking.
There is overwhelming evidence that smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of illness and premature death. That is at the core of what we are talking about this evening. Some people have questioned why we are tackling second-hand smoking. In particular, they want to know why we are trying to ban smoking in cars when children are present. All the available evidence suggests that being exposed to second-hand smoke is as bad for one’s health as direct smoking. Of course children are particularly at risk. When people smoke cigarettes, not all of the smoke goes into their lungs. It goes into the air and anybody who is near them inhales this smoke. That is why we have banned smoking in the workplace, in bars and in restaurants. We have successfully ensured people can enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere when they are out.
The technical term for second-hand smoke is “environmental tobacco smoke”. It has a combination of over 4,000 chemicals, which is a lot of chemicals to inhale. The World Health Organization, WHO, agrees that 250 of those chemicals have been identified as causing cancer. It has classed second-hand smoke as a cancer-causing agent. We have to listen to the experts in this field, particularly the WHO, which has reported that second-hand smoking causes 60,000 premature deaths around the world every year. A 2004 study by the WHO found that two fifths of children and one third of adult non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke that year. I would like to put the WHO estimate that 1% of worldwide mortality in 2004 was caused by this exposure into context. As a result of second-hand smoking in 2004, some 379,000 people died from heart disease, some 165,000 people died from respiratory diseases, some 36,900 people from asthma and some 21,400 people died from lung cancer. In other words, approximately 580 people died every day in 2004 as a result of second-hand smoke. We must listen to these statistics. We cannot ignore these figures.

Our children are especially at risk. As they are not as developed as adults, they cannot avoid exposure. The health risks for children are well documented. A report that was published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland in 2013, A Tobacco-Free Future, contained some interesting findings about children and smoking. I read through the report yesterday and today in advance of my contribution to this debate. I was interested to read that 22% of the primary care-givers of nine year old children reported that smoking occurs in the same room as their child. It was also reported that 15% of people who had a family car allowed smoking in that car. The report found that there is a higher prevalence of asthma among children who are exposed to second-hand smoking. Indeed, it is also associated with severe asthma.
Some people argue that smoking pollutants in cars have no effect, but research suggests otherwise. The findings of research that was carried out in Canada to measure the effect that smoke pollutants have in vehicles are very startling. It was found that just one cigarette smoked in a stationary car with its windows closed can produce a level of second-hand smoke that is 11 times higher than the level found in an average bar where smoking is permitted. In the case of a moving car, the level of second-hand smoke produced by a single cigarette can be as high as seven times the average level of a smoky bar. That is why the Minister is acting on this. The evidence is there.
Other countries have recognised that in-vehicle smoking needs to be tackled because of the risks it poses to children. In February of this year, the Northern Territory was the last of the regions of Australia to introduce a ban on smoking in cars. The cut-off points used in Australia, and the penalties that apply when the smoking ban is breached there, vary across the various jurisdictions. In some regions, the smoking ban applies to minors under the age of 16. In other regions, it applies to minors under the age of 18. The penalties also differ. An on-the-spot fine of A$250 applies in the Australian Capital Territory and court fines of up to A$5,000 can be issued. In New South Wales, an on-the-spot fine of A$250 dollars is imposed on drivers, with a maximum of A$1,100 applying if this is disputed. When the Minister is summing up at the end of this debate, he might indicate if he has details or views on the level of fines that may be imposed here. In particular, I would like to know whether a fixed-charge fine will apply here. If so, will it be similar to the fixed-charge fines that are charged under the Roads Acts? The Minister might clarify that.
We do not need to go to Australia to find examples of what is being done in this sector. Across the Irish Sea, a ban on in-vehicle smoking has been introduced by the authorities in Wales, who were acting on research undertaken by Cardiff University suggesting that one in ten children in Wales were being exposed to smoke in family cars. In England, a section of the Children and Families Act 2014, which was passed by the Parliament, empowers the Government there to bring in regulations to introduce smoke-free child-carrying cars. In July, the British Government sought views on draft regulations. It will be interesting to see whether this ban will be in place before next year’s general election in the UK. Other countries that are set to follow Ireland’s example include Finland, the Netherlands and Taiwan. It is unusual that the Netherlands is planning to introduce a ban, given that it has such a liberal regime.

Under section 3 of the Bill, An Garda Síochána will have responsibility for the enforcement of the ban when an offence is committed. The Bill also introduces a number of defences which are set out in section 5. One of the main reasons given in England in opposition to the introduction of a ban of this type was that it would be unenforceable. When the workplace smoking ban was introduced here, opponents made similar claims. That is why I disagree with what the previous speaker, Deputy Finian McGrath, had to say. It is all about compliance. Since the smoke-free legislation was introduced here some years ago, the compliance level has been 97%. A similar compliance level applies to the legislation governing the display of cigarettes in shops. I disagree with Deputy McGrath’s opinion on this aspect of the matter.
Countries like Australia that have been to the forefront in the battle against tobacco have made similar findings. When smoke-free dining was introduced in Australia, a compliance rate of 96% was reported after 18 months. It is important to point out that smoking laws are generally self-enforcing. Smokers refrain from smoking in smoke-free areas once they become aware of the laws. That is why the Minister has introduced this legislation, on which I commend him. It is important to get the message out there. We must keep telling people how dangerous a threat smoking is to their health and that of their children.
Various campaign advertisements are very effective. One of the best anti-smoking campaigns in recent times was the HSE series of advertisements featuring Gerry Collins, who died at the age of 57. We all remember how he said he would miss his kids, and miss not being there when they might need him. Those were striking and heartbreaking words to hear from a man who was dying of cancer and was campaigning for others to kick the habit which had left him with lung cancer. The HSE believes his adverts have helped 60,000 people to attempt to give up cigarettes this year. His family and friends should be very proud of him. We are proud of him as well. Effective awareness campaigns have helped to change attitudes towards smoking. It has now become very anti-social to smoke. This shift in attitudes to smoking will ensure the latest smoking ban succeeds. It will become very anti-social to smoke while children are in cars. Those who persist with this activity will be frowned upon by the general public. I do not doubt that over time, we will achieve the same level of compliance we achieved with the introduction of the various other bans. I commend the Minister on bringing this good legislation, which will save people’s lives, to the House.