Why I admire the pluck of the Irish

By on 31/05/2013 in Blog

Cllr Steve Bedser

Cllr Steve Bedser

Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, reflects on a historic move by the Irish government and calls on the UK to follow suit.

  • Q: What’s good enough for Australia and Ireland but not England?
  • A: Standardised/plain packaging of tobacco products.

I was delighted for the people of Ireland when I read earlier this week that Health Minister James Reilly has been given Government approval to begin the process of introducing plain packaging. Delighted and just a little envious.

I had hoped to see similar proposals included in the Queen's Speech earlier this month. Instead, following intense pressure from the powerful tobacco lobby, the plan has been put on hold, while the Government assesses whether similar legislation in Australia has seen a reduction in smoking levels.

Should we be taking this sort of risk with the health of our young people? I certainly don’t think so.

To me, this is a simple choice between the interests of our young people and those of the tobacco giants and that's no contest as far as I'm concerned. There’s very strong evidence to show that plain or standardised packs are less appealing to young people, while plain packs will also enhance the effectiveness of the picture health warnings currently displayed on cigarette packs in motivating smokers to quit.

Of course the tobacco companies will say there’s no evidence that plain packaging works. They also fought long and hard against the smoking ban, but thankfully their lobbying was ignored and the smoking ban has been a huge success.

Since the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 was passed, packaging has become the tobacco companies' number one tool for marketing their products. They use innovative marketing strategies to attract new smokers, especially children into a lifetime of addiction that is expensive, health destroying but commercially profitable for the industry.

The figures speak for themselves: In the UK the majority of smokers start before the age of 18 and in Birmingham, around a third of 16-24 year olds are actively smoking. I firmly believe plain packaging legislation would help to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of tobacco.

Don’t our young people deserve the same protection as their counterparts in Australia and Ireland?

The Irish have a track record of being ahead of the curve in these things – in March 2004 Ireland became the first country in the world to institute an outright ban on smoking in workplaces. We followed suit and I firmly believe the ban represents one of the biggest ever leaps forward in public health.

Now the Irish government has once again put the health of the nation before commercial interests and I hope our own government is taking note.

Cllr Bedser chairs Birmingham's Tobacco Control Alliance and leads on smoking for the Local Government Association Community Wellbeing Board.

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