The Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012

I join in congratulating and commending Senators van Turnhout, Crown and Daly on their efforts. I also commend the Minister on laying this legislation before the House. He is particularly passionate about this issue, his passion arising from his experience as a general practitioner, GP. It is great that he is using this opportunity as a politician to address what he knows from general practice to be a major social and health issue.
There has been a significant cultural shift in terms of smoking and – not to mix up the two – drink driving since my childhood. Smoking is no longer cool in the way it was then. The smoking ban has been a critical factor in that regard and I commend Deputy Martin, who piloted it. The plain packaging legislation is also contributing to the cultural shift.
Speaking in the Seanad, the Minister stated that we wanted to arrive at a situation in which people did not find smoking attractive. By a raft of legislative initiatives, advertisements, etc., we are arriving at that. Professor Luke Clancy’s study on passive smoking in cars merits reference in the context of this legislation. According to it, one in seven schoolchildren is exposed to smoking in cars. Those who are exposed are more likely to start smoking, leading to respiratory and allergic symptoms.
It is well known that cigarette smoke is highly carcinogenic, with second hand or environmental smoke equally so. Every year in Ireland, 6,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases. The inhalation of passive smoke exposes an individual to the same amount of smoke as a smoker.
If one is a smoker, one will lose ten to 15 years of one’s average lifespan and 95% of lung cancer cases in Ireland are caused either by smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke. These are very stark figures. There are many who would maintain this legislation is a way in which the rights of adults and the choices they wish to make in life can be restricted and impinged upon. This simply is not the case. This legislation is about protecting those members of society who are too young to have a voice. Noble person and fine individual that he is, Deputy Finian McGrath has stated that he, of course, would not smoke in front of children in a car. This will remain the case for the great bulk of adults. The great majority of adults would not contemplate so doing in the first place and, consequently, the issue does not arise. Moreover, the legislation will even create a greater consciousness, whereby the ultimate number of offenders will be very low. The purpose is to further create a consciousness in this regard.
As the Minister, Deputy Reilly, mentioned in the Seanad, there is no safe level of exposure to environmental or second-hand tobacco smoke and the danger levels are increased in enclosed spaces such as inside a car. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that parents who smoke do not expose their children to this carcinogenic substance. The 2013 policy document, Tobacco Free Ireland, makes the point that children are particularly vulnerable to the marketing practices of the tobacco industry and that the positive portrayal of smoking by models and in other forms of advertising glamorises smoking and makes it more attractive to children. These issues all are being tackled in the plain packaging legislation.
Section 2 of the Bill sets out clearly that smoking in a car with a child present is strictly prohibited and that the person in question will be deemed guilty of an offence. I welcome this part of the Bill, as evidence shows that such exposure is dangerous. A study by the Canadian Medical Association stated there is some evidence to suggest that second-hand smoke inhaled in the confines of a car is 23 times more toxic than when inhaled anywhere else. Similarly, MRBI research for ASH Ireland showed a popular acceptance of this point. On the legislation, I acknowledge there are issues as to how one identifies age, how one identifies children and so on. However, Members are aware that an individual garda will apply common sense in this regard. One also realises that the very existence of the legislation will create a moral imperative not to smoke in front of children by which most normal adults will feel obliged to abide. If one likes, they will not see it as an issue with which to play cops and robbers.
Sections 3 and 4 deal with the power bestowed on An Garda Síochána under the legislation. It gives members of the force the power to issue a fixed-charge notice, which will be in line with the standard fixed-charge notice system in the Road Traffic Acts, and an extreme situation in the District Court can lead to a fine of €1,000. In the debate in the Seanad, Senator Crown made the point that the primary benefit will be educational and I concur that this will be the case. People have come a long way in terms of their awareness. First, popular awareness among the population regarding the dangers of smoking and its obvious harmful effects has become universal. Second, there is an acceptance that something must be done about it and all the legislation is combining to alter the culture and to reinforce the need to tackle it. This legislation does something similar.
I welcome the legislation and do not perceive it as being indicative of a nanny state. A nanny state might be a state in which children were exposed to something about which they had neither freedom nor rights. I will conclude on this point but sadly in recent years, Members have been dealing a lot in this House with situations in which the rights of children were infringed and let us not perpetuate that. I welcome this legislation. I am aware of its imperfections and of its implementation difficulties but the balance of good lies in its enactment and on that basis, I support it. I again congratulate the Minister on having the non-partisanship and professionalism to accept the legislation rather than to go back into the ridiculous trenches from which Members tend to address legislative matters.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website