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E-cigarettes are threatening to normalise smoking: top doctor

By Lesley Houston

Published 18/05/2015

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride (far left) with new Minister of Health Simon Hamilton as he launches his eighth annual report yesterday
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride (far left) with new Minister of Health Simon Hamilton as he launches his eighth annual report yesterday

Northern Ireland's top doctor has warned that the rise of e-cigarettes could jeopardise attempts to tackle smoking risks.

The chief medical officer also said that alcohol remained one of the greatest threats to the health of our population.

Dr Michael McBride has delivered his latest report on the state of Northern Ireland's physical and mental wellbeing and has said one of the measures to tackle excessive alcohol consumption was minimum unit pricing.

He admitted it was not a panacea but would help offset the greater risks posed by drink to a host of diseases, mental health issues, the impact on the economy and anti-social behaviour.

In his annual illustration of Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care system, he also said progress in reducing the risks of smoking could be jeopardised by the rise in e-cigarettes.

"There are risks that this will again normalise smoking," he said, describing the need to prevent children from taking up smoking as a "public health priority".

His comments came as statistics show 5% of 11-16-year-olds in Northern Ireland are regular smokers.

"The introduction of standardised packaging is another significant development which aims to prevent the uptake of smoking by children and young people," he said. His warnings came as he also highlighted as one of his "personal priorities" the prevention of deaths by window blind cords.

He said he had been "deeply affected by those who have tragically lost children in this way" and praised efforts to raise awareness and reduce the risk of accidents.

In his report, Dr McBride echoed the assertion, contained within the review of health services by Professor Sir Liam Donaldson's report, The Right Time, The Right Place, that it was "realistic" to make Northern Ireland "a world leader in quality and safety of its care".

"Northern Ireland is the right place for such a transformation, and now is the right time," Dr McBride maintained.

Among efforts to improve services, he referred to initiatives to tackle mental ill-health - the single largest cause of disability and sickness absence from work in the UK - such as the new Regional Mental Health Care Pathway 'With You in Mind' and new 'recovery colleges' across all five trust areas. He said early intervention like the Infant Mental Health Framework and Action Plan would help ensure optimum services for children's mental health at the most critical time of their development.

Dr McBride illustrated improvements to accommodate Northern Ireland's growing ageing population as well as rising obesity problems. He further praised improvements in research, development and innovation as well as in emergency care, especially for palliative care patients.

He said a new Unscheduled Care Task Group had led to the creation of a new pilot scheme in conjunction with Marie Curie and the NI Ambulance Service.

Tribute was also paid to Northern Ireland healthcare staff who volunteered during last year's Ebola outbreak in Africa.


  • From 2008-12 alcohol was linked to the deaths of 24 men and 11 women in every 100,000, with smoking blamed on the deaths of 251 men and 116 women per 100,000.
  • In 2013, 4,230 people died from cancer while heart disease caused 2,475 deaths.
  • 303 people died by suicide in 2013 - 229 males and 74 females.
  • People from affluent areas can expect to live 13 years longer than those from more deprived areas.

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