Last year was a ‘very significant year' for tobacco control in Ireland, however continued strong leadership on this issue is needed if smoking rates are to be reduced, the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC) has said.
Releasing its 2009 Annual Report, the OTC noted that last year was a significant year for tobacco control following the removal of point of sale advertising and tobacco product displays in retail units. Last year also saw the establishment of a national register of licensed tobacco retailers.
According to OTC chairperson, Norma Cronin, these moves kept Ireland at the forefront of global policy initiatives and will help to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking in the longer term.
"Initial findings from research into the impact of the removal of point of sale advertising suggests that the measure is already having a positive effect," she said.
In fact, a survey of young people commissioned by the OTC during 2009 showed that:
• Support for the removal grew from 56% before it was introduced to 68% afterwards.
• Before the removal, 81% could recall seeing any cigarette or tobacco packs in shops in the previous month. Afterwards this dropped to less than 25%.
• 33% thought they or their friends could successfully buy cigarettes before the removal while afterwards only 25% thought they could get away with it.
OTC research carried out last year also showed a high degree of compliance, with 98% of stores compliant with the legislation regarding the display of tobacco advertising and 97% of stores compliant with the legislation regarding the display of tobacco products for sale in stores.
Other research commissioned by the OTC during 2009 included the 'National Tobacco Retail Audit - 2009 Monitoring Report', which showed that the percentage of retailers refusing to sell cigarettes to young people under the age of 18 increased by eight points to 68%. This compared to a 60% refusal rate in 2008 and 52% in 2007.
The Annual Report also contained details of the work of the HSE's environmental health officers in enforcing tobacco control legislation in 2009.
Last year, 25 cases were taken for non-compliance with smoke-free workplace legislation, resulting in 19 convictions. Eleven of these were for permitting smoking in non-compliant outdoor areas.
Meanwhile, eight cases were taken for sales to minors offences, resulting in six convictions.
Ms Cronin insisted that the Annual Report showed that progress was made in 2009, however she stressed that the battle to protect people against the scourge of tobacco is a long-term one and it must continue to be resourced and prioritised.
"Tobacco is the leading cause of premature death and ill health in Ireland, as there are 6,000 deaths each year from tobacco-related diseases. In terms of overall population smoking rates, the most recent Slán survey indicated a smoking prevalence rate of 29%. This rate is high by international standards and is in fact much higher than England," she pointed out.
She said that strong leadership and a political commitment to keep tobacco control as a top Government priority are needed to reduce smoking rates.
"We need sustained investment in comprehensive social marketing campaigns to encourage people to quit smoking. We know that the more times people try to quit the greater their chances of succeeding. These campaigns are also an effective way to discourage young people from taking up smoking," she said.
The launch of the OTC's 2009 Annual Report follows the recent announcement that the Office is to merge into the HSE in 2011 as part of the Government's ongoing rationalisation programme for state agencies.
The OTC has welcomed this move and said it is crucial that tobacco control remains a political and public health priority.
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