Belfast Telegraph

Minister seeks tobacco-free Ireland

Health Minister James Reilly has declared war on smoking, saying he wants a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025.

The minister, whose father and brother died from smoking-related illnesses, said the battle against tobacco is one the Government cannot afford to lose.

"It's the only product I know that is legally, freely available that will kill you if you use it, according to the manufacturers and so on," Dr Reilly said. "It's a fight that we cannot turn away from and that we can't afford to lose. It's a battle that will continue until it's won and it will be won."

He revealed that a document had been passed by Government, entitled Tobacco-Free Ireland, which aims to have less than 5% of the population smoking within the next 12 years. Ireland's smoking population is currently 29% - well above the average among OECD countries at 21%.

Dr Reilly is to meet a string of campaign groups - including the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society, Barnardo's and Cystic Fibrosis Ireland - to discuss "the dreadful damage" of smoking. "I have very strong professional and personal feelings about this particular industry," the minister said.

Dr Reilly has been touched personally by the suffering caused by smoking after his brother died of lung cancer and his father went blind following a stroke. Both were smokers and, like Dr Reilly, both were doctors.

The Health Minister, in his quarterly meeting with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said he also wants to extend the smoking ban. Ireland became the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with the workplace smoking ban in 2004.

This was followed by an end to the sale of 10-packs in 2007, a ban on retail displays and adverts in 2009, and picture health warnings on packets this year. An extension of the smoking ban could extend from the workplace to public areas such as parks and beaches.

Dr Reilly added that he has officially begun the process of introducing plain cigarette packaging across the country. The standardised packaging will see all forms of branding, trademarks, logos, colours and graphics removed from tobacco products.

"Plain packaging is one of a number of measures that are required to denormalise smoking in our society," he said. "Education and awareness, cessation services and extending the smoking ban to other areas are just some of the other measures which I am currently progressing."

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