Five years on from the introduction of the ban on smoking in the workplace, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has hailed the success of the legislation, which it says is playing its part in tackling the biggest cause of preventable illness here.
However, the PHA also says the overall prevalence of smoking in Northern Ireland is still high, and work must continue to encourage and assist people to quit.
The Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order came into effect on 30 April 2007, and banned smoking in the workplace and public places, as well as in vehicles used for the purposes of work and for transporting the public. Latest figures show that Northern Ireland has an almost 99 per cent compliance rate with the legislation.
Gerry Bleakney, Head of Health and Social wellbeing improvement, PHA said: “Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness, premature death and health inequality throughout Northern Ireland with around 2,300 people dying prematurely each year from smoking-related illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke and many cancers.
“The costs of smoking to society are also significant. The Ten Year Tobacco Control Strategy for Northern Ireland, which was launched recently estimates that the hospital cost of treating smoking related illnesses in Northern Ireland is in the region of £119million each year.’’
“Reducing smoking prevalence is one of the biggest challenges we face in public health. Over 300,000 adults in Northern Ireland still smoke.
“The Smoking Order was aimed at protecting employees and the general public from exposure to second-hand smoke, which increases the risk of suffering from various smoking related illnesses such as lung cancer or heart disease.”
Since the introduction of the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order, further tobacco control measures have been introduced to help prevent people from starting to smoke and support current smokers to quit. This includes the Age of Sale legislation, which was introduced in September 2008 to increase the minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 16 to 18 years, and the ban on the sale of tobacco products from vending machines, which came into effect in March 2012.
Gerry continued: “I would like to commend the work of everyone involved in providing stop smoking services and in developing and enforcing legislation to protect workers and the public from the damage caused by smoking cigarettes’’.
“We have seen a decrease in smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland with rates reducing from 29% in 1998/99 to 24% in 2010/11. There has also been a positive uptake of PHA-funded Stop Smoking Services, with rates increasing from 23,383 in 2009/10 to 34,386 in 2010/2011.
“However we cannot afford to be complacent, the prevalence rate of smoking is still high. The PHA welcomes consultation currently ongoing on plain packaging of tobacco products which will have an impact on people’s health and reduce the uptake of smoking. We will continue to work closely with the DHSSPS, HSC Trusts and partner organisations in the voluntary sector to prevent the recruitment of new smokers and reduce smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland.”
The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Edwin Poots added: “I very much welcome the high compliance levels with smokefree legislation over the past five years. This success is due to committed efforts by district councils and businesses, and the civic mindedness by smokers themselves. The introduction of compulsory smokefree work and public places has been one of the most significant public health developments in recent years and is now firmly embedded in public consciousness. Indeed, it would be virtually unthinkable to have to suffer secondhand smoke in a pub, workplace, restaurant, bus or taxi.”
The Minister continued: “Now that this legislation has been widely accepted, we are concentrating on measures aimed at preventing young people from starting to smoke. That is why I have banned tobacco sales from vending machines and, on 31 October 2012, I will be introducing legislation requiring large shops to cover tobacco products from public view. Similar legislation will be introduced for smaller shops from 6 April 2015.”
For further Information contact the PHA Press Office on 028 90553663