Cigarettes are set to become "invisible" under hard-hitting new anti-tobacco regulations. A raft of proposals, rivalling Californian law in their stringency, would place Ireland at the "head of the class" internationally in terms of anti-tobacco legislation, according to a report in today's Irish Times.
The proposals, attributed to the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin, also include establishing an academic research centre to independently assess the risks of smoking.
Under the proposed legislation, cigarettes would cease to be permitted on display in shops where they could be seen by children. Instead, retail outlets would display a discreet sign at their entrance, advertising that cigarettes were available inside. Self-service cigarette vending machines are to be outlawed in public places where children can access them.
Anyone selling cigarettes would require a licence, and that license could be revoked if they were found selling tobacco products to minors. The age limit for purchasing cigarettes and tobacco may also be raised from 16 to 18. The minister is pressing for a total ban on tobacco advertising, including "secondary" advertising, such as branded merchandise and sports sponsorship.
The aim of any new anti-tobacco legislation would be to reduce the number of Irish smokers, especially the growing number of young female smokers. Over 7,000 people die in Ireland every year from diseases caused partly or wholly by smoking, and recent research has shown that tobacco-related illnesses are costing the Irish health system over £500 million a year.
To enforce any proposed new laws, an Office of Tobacco Control has been established in Clane, Co Kildare. It is to be headed by Mr Tom Power, who formerly ran the Department of Health's Environmental Health Unit. The office is currently in the process of seconding civil servants from other departments, and expects to have its management team in place by the end of the year.
Speaking to irishhealth.com, Mr Power stated that the new office expects to have a multi-disciplinary role. "We will monitor, co-ordinate and, where necessary, enforce," he explained. "Ultimately, though, legislation will define our role."
Minister Martin himself was unavailable for comment today, due to the tragic death of his advisor Gobnait O'Connell in a road accident earlier this week. However, Department of Health sources were adamant that the proposals mentioned in today's national papers have not yet been finalised, and remain a matter for debate within the Department.
The new proposals come in the wake of a Western Health Board study that found a majority of retailers in the area were knowingly selling cigarettes to underage children. Over half of the shops tested sold cigarettes to the decoy youngsters, none of whom were older than 14.