11/10/2021

Health Minister To Prioritise Tackling 'Smoking Harms'

Regulations on smoking in cars with children present and preventing the sale of nicotine inhaling products to under 18s are to be priorities as the Health Minister Robin Swann outlines plans that will continue to tackle the harms caused to children and young people by tobacco and second-hand smoking.

Minister Swann said: "The use of tobacco continues to be a primary cause of preventable ill-health and premature death in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we maximise our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and protect people, particularly children, from the effects of second- hand smoke."

Legislation is already in place which bans smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles including on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person. The proposed new regulations would extend the current smoke-free provisions to private vehicles where children are present, when there is more than one person in the car and the vehicle is enclosed. It is also proposed that failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle will be made an offence.

The Minister said: "Children and young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults. The Royal College of Physicians has reported that this can lead to increased risk of asthma, lower respiratory infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as reduced respiratory function.
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"These planned regulations will play an important role in protecting children from the harms of nicotine addiction and tobacco use. I anticipate that, subject to Assembly approval, these regulations will be operational early next year."

The Minister has also laid out his plans to prevent the sale of nicotine inhaling products, such as e-cigarettes, to anyone aged under 18, under the Health Miscellaneous Provisions Act (NI) 2016. It will also be an offence to purchase such products on behalf of a child (a proxy purchasing offence). These offences mirror current offences relating to tobacco sales.

Minister Swann said: "Nicotine is highly addictive and, according to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. In addition to the potential long-term health implications of e-cigarette use by teenagers, there are also concerns that they may act as a gateway into smoking.

"Youth smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and I do not wish to see this trend reversed because young people, who may not have been induced initially to smoke tobacco, instead become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes."

In conclusion, the Minister confirmed that the current Tobacco Control Strategy is to be extended.

"There have been a number of significant developments in the area of tobacco and nicotine control since the current strategy was introduced. As a result, a mid-term review was undertaken and work is ongoing to implement review recommendations. It is important that we allow sufficient time for the recommendations to be implemented. Therefore the current strategy will be extended for a further period of time. This will allow for actions to be taken forward that address the inequalities evident in tobacco use and the associated health outcomes."

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