On March 29th 2004, Irish smokers were forced out into the cold and could no longer enjoy a cigarette with their pint at the pub. On paper, the smoking ban has benefitted the overall health of the public, but has it done much more than simply shift the problem outdoors rather than eliminate smoking altogether?
This month, Minister for Health James Reilly TD commended the decade-long move as ‘groundbreaking’, having significantly decreased the number of smoking-related deaths per annum by 13%. Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin subsequently revealed the ban has saved 4,000 lives since its conception.
So many alternatives to tobacco have surfaced in recent years, most notably the advent of the electronic cigarette. Studies have yet to find any harmful effects from the devices, which has caused pandemonium in relation to EU law and regulations for their use in public places. Over 50,000 smokers made the switch to vaporizing in 2013 alone, causing normal cigarette sales to dip 4% below average. However, Iarnród Éireann announced a ban on the devices two weeks ago, due to ‘uncomfortable passengers.’
With what seems like an ideal solution to Ireland’s smoking problem, why does the Department of Health, which Reilly is closely affiliated with, keep pushing for the prohibition of selling e-cigarettes to minors and their ban on public transport?
As nonsensical as the reason sounds, every smoker has fallen into the trap for some nonsensical reason or another which seem perfectly plausible at the time. Fast forward 30 years and you’re making yet another New Years resolution to quit, which you know you won’t keep, and the crow’s feet under your eyes are far more noticeable than they should be.
In retrospect, imagine instead of lighting a Marlboro, you buy an e-cigarette. 30 years later, the habit is long gone because it was easier to quit, you’ve got perfect pink lungs, and no sign of crow’s feet in sight. Underage smokers will occur in every generation after this one, and so will unethical shopkeepers with mortgages to pay and mouths to feed, who will jump at the opportunity to sell counterfeit cigarettes to teenagers. Duty-free cigarettes will always be in circulation, going for cheap for the youngsters. Somehow, they will always find a way to fuel the addiction. So why blockade the safest option for smokers when you deny minors (at an age when over 80% of lifelong smoking habits begin) the access to electronic cigarettes?
According to a recent survey conducted by the college view, over 70% of people agree that the law will only put a barrier to the safer alternative and push them to acquire a taste for actual tobacco. A further 70% agreed that there is no need for any legislation banning the use of the devices indoors.
Will banning their sale to minors inevitably lead to a full-blown smoking habit? If people are prohibited from smoking e-cigarettes on planes and trains, will it simply lead to frequent bathroom breaks to sneak a few puffs? If so, then what is the point in introducing laws that are failures before they even begin?
Our country was the first in the world to bring the smoking to fruition ten years ago for a specific reason; the harmful effects of second-hand smoking. There was even scant opposition to the ban within the smoking community, as many preferred smoking outside rather than indoors. However, if the Irish rail service takes complaints from passengers made uncomfortable by electronic cigarette smokers so seriously, how long is it before the devices are stripped of their most admired quality; their safety and legality indoors?