Strong public support for a Tobacco-Free Ireland

By June Shannon Policy News   |   31st May 2022

Burden of smoking-related harm falls heaviest on most vulnerable

A new survey has found that 71 per cent of the Irish public believe that the legal age to buy tobacco products should be raised to 21, and 4 out of 5 believe tobacco companies should be required to pay the health costs of tobacco harm.

The survey of public opinion on ending the tobacco epidemic in Ireland, was one of three reports published at a special conference today (Tuesday 31 May 2022). The event was hosted by the HSE Health and Wellbeing, Tobacco Free Ireland Programme (TFI) to mark World No Tobacco Day 2022.

The results of the survey, “Bringing the Tobacco Epidemic to an End: Public Views on “Tobacco Endgame” in Ireland,” mirror those revealed in research carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation last year which found that 73 per cent of adults were in favour of increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco from the current 18 years to 21.

Coupled with the strong support for increasing the legal age to buy tobacco products, the HSE survey also found there was strong public support for the goal of ending the harm caused by smoking in Ireland also known as the “tobacco endgame”.

According to the survey, 75 per cent of people support the goal of “tobacco endgame” and 77 per cent see the goal as achievable, although most of these see it being achieved after the current target of 2025.

This is the first time the Irish public was presented with the big, bold measures which may be needed to achieve “tobacco endgame” in Ireland. Public support for many of the proposed measures to achieve this goal was very high, with majority support (50% or greater) for 19 of the 22 ideas tested.

There was very high support for the following ideas with 4 out of 5 adults agreeing that tobacco product sales should be phased out, shops that sell tobacco products should be required to display information that encourages tobacco users to quit, the nicotine content in cigarettes and e-cigarettes should be reduced to make tobacco products less addictive, tobacco products should be more tightly regulated and that tobacco product sales should be banned near playgrounds, schools and universities.

A key feature of public support was an interest in ensuring that action to deliver “tobacco endgame” in Ireland includes efforts to support people who are currently addicted to tobacco products so nobody is left behind.

" It is evidently clear that an endgame to tobacco is achievable here in Ireland.”

Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer, The Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said, ‘’The findings published today have reinforced the message that there is a strong public appetite for bold tobacco control measures, such as Tobacco 21, to achieve a tobacco-free Ireland. With the reduction in national smoking levels having stalled over the past few years, the government must take heed of these findings and begin putting plans in place for the introduction of these tobacco endgame measures. The first step to achieving this is increasing the legal age of sale of all tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21. When more than three-quarters of the public believe the government must do more to protect them from the dangers of tobacco harm, and 83 per cent agree with the eventual phase-out of all tobacco product sales, it is evidently clear that an endgame to tobacco is achievable here in Ireland.”

The HSE also published the most recent findings from the State of Tobacco Control Report which examines recent trends in smoking in Ireland, tracks progress and highlights emerging challenges.

The State of Tobacco Control Report revealed a stark gradient in health across socioeconomic groups in Ireland: compared to people in the least deprived areas, with men in the most deprived areas on average dying 5 years earlier and women in these areas living 4.5 years less.

According to the State of Tobacco Control Report, while a socio-economic gradient in smoking was clear in 2015 (16% versus 29%, comparing the highest and lowest socio-economic groups), in 2021 this gradient not only persists, but it has widened (11% versus 31%, comparing the highest and lowest socio-economic groups). There was also variation in positive intention to quit, quitting behaviour and quit success across socio-economic groups.

" We need to double down on our efforts if we are to bring the harm caused by smoking to an end in Ireland for everyone,”

Dr Paul Kavanagh, Public Health Medicine Specialist, HSE

Speaking at the TFI Conference, Dr Paul Kavanagh, Public Health Medicine Specialist, HSE explained how Ireland was still deep in a continuing epidemic of smoking-related harm.

“Overall, the proportion of people who currently smoke reduced from 23 per cent in 2015 to 18 per cent in 2021.  This progress means it’s all too easy to think our work on tackling smoking is done.   But smoking prevalence increased from 17 per cent in 2019 to 18 per cent in 2021, and following a period of historic decline, it’s worrying to note that smoking has increased in teenagers.  Smoking continues to cause preventable harm on a large scale in Ireland, claiming over 4,500 lives each year.  It’s clear that we cannot rest on past success.  We need to double down on our efforts if we are to bring the harm caused by smoking to an end in Ireland for everyone,” Dr Kavanagh said.

He added, “Given the scale of harm, it is time to ask if we want to bring the continuing epidemic of smoking-related harm to an end, for once and for all.  We put this question to the public to involve them in development of the new TFI Programme Plan 2022-2025.  Three in four people want a “Tobacco-Free Ireland” for the next generation and see this as achievable.  Support was high for decisive action to bring the tobacco epidemic to an end.   And people told us they support the steps needed to ensure that people who smoke are not left behind.  New tobacco endgame ideas supported by the public included reducing nicotine content of cigarettes so they are less addictive, extending the scope of legally protected smoke-free spaces, increasing the age below which retail of tobacco products is prohibited, and providing more support to people who currently smoke to help them stop.”

The HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme also launched its second Tobacco Free Ireland Programme Plan 2022- 2025 at the conference today.

The State of Tobacco Control report, TFI Programme Plan 2022- 2025 and Tobacco EndGame reports are available at https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/tobaccocontrol/news/

The HSE provides a range of services to help you stop smoking. Find stop smoking clinics and other services near you https://www2.hse.ie/quit-smoking/support-services/

Peer-to-peer support is available on the QUIT Facebook Page or on Twitter @HSEQuitTeam 

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