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Thursday 29 September 2016

McGrath defends views on smoking as backlash grows

Super junior health minister Finian McGrath has called for the smoking ban to be eased Photo: Tom Burke
Super junior health minister Finian McGrath has called for the smoking ban to be eased Photo: Tom Burke

Super junior minister Finian McGrath - who has come under fire for saying pubs should have designated indoor smoking sections - has said "people need to calm down a bit".

Anti-smoking organisations and politicians have lined up to attack the Dublin Bay North TD after he argued in an interview that ventilated indoor-smoking areas "work in other EU countries" like Portugal and Germany.

A smoker himself, Mr McGrath last night insisted that he doesn't regret what he said and added that smokers "are fed up with being pushed around".

An Ash Ireland statement said it would be "deeply concerned that any consideration might be given to undermining the Workplace Smoking Legislation."

Ash chairman Dr Patrick Doorley said: "This is one of the most progressive and successful pieces of health legislation introduced in recent years."

Irresponsible

The Irish Cancer Society said Mr McGrath's remarks were "unhelpful and irresponsible".

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin - who was the health minister who introduced the ban in 2004 - recalled that Mr McGrath was one of the few TDs to oppose his plan at the time.

"I think it's important that a person now in the position Finian is in would not just complain and say he's fed up of being pushed around because he's a smoker."

Speaking on RTE Radio he called on Mr McGrath to "embrace the importance of really being strong in terms of creating a tobacco-free society".

Former health minister Dr James Reilly said the re-introduction of designated smoking areas would be "regressive".

"I think Finian McGrath needs to think now more as a minister with responsibility relating to disability and health, rather than as somebody who smokes," the former TD said.

Sinn Fein health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said the smoking ban helped her to give up cigarettes around 10 years ago.

"There are people who would say you should lead by example. I'm a reformed smoker myself," the Dublin Fingal TD said.

"The junior minister should look at the impact of the smoking ban. I can say, with my hand on my heart, it definitely helped me to give up smoking."

Ms O'Reilly said that workers in the service industry have "a right to a smoke-free workplace and I don't think he has any right to challenge them on that."

Mr McGrath defended his "personal views" on smoking areas in pubs, saying smokers "are fed up with being pushed around".

But he added that he supported the Government policy to try to reduce smoking.

He said he tries to give up smoking "every day" and on good days he has as few as five cigarettes, down from 15 or 20.

"I am only human. I am addicted to nicotine," he added.

"The bottom-line is we need a new approach as well and (should) listen to people who have a problem with smoking and listen to our views." Mr McGrath said "people need to calm down a bit". He added: "I don't regret having a personal view as a minister."

Mr McGrath was speaking as he officially opened the €5.95m refurbishment of St Damien's Ward at the National Kidney Transplant Centre in Dublin's Beaumont Hospital. It will accommodate 21 patients and is especially designed to suit patients at risk of serious infection following a transplant.

Tougher

Health minister Simon Harris last night said he was committed to tougher anti-smoking laws.

"I absolutely and fully support the smoking ban as introduced some years ago." He added that he was committed to achieving a "tobacco-free status" here by 2025.

Price hikes on cigarettes to help fund cuts to the USC and the implementation of plans for plain packaging are among the measures planned by the Government to bring smoking rates down from almost 20pc to 5pc.

"Great progress has been made in this public health policy area over the period of successive governments and I intend to continue to support and develop such policies," Mr Harris said.

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