Gemma Good

Is it time to kick the habit?

Gemma Good

If you planned to give up the fags in the new year, good for you. If not, the habit is going to become a lot harder to maintain. The Tobacco-Free Ireland Strategic Programme Plan 2022 plans to stand firmly in the way of consumers and their nicotine fix. This will be done with a proposed ban on tobacco sales, limited outlets selling nicotine products and by forcing tobacco companies to pay for the healthcare of those who are suffering with nicotine related illnesses.

New measures could see those who smoke going into a pharmacy to buy tobacco products. The inconvenience of this could turn some people away from the habit. I don’t smoke myself but I know many who do and, for them, factoring in a trip to the chemist wouldn’t be a big ordeal to satisfy the cravings. At this stage, we’ve all seen the adverts to quit smoking, we know the health problems associated and some have endured family members’ deathly glares and snide comments when the pouch of tobacco comes out.

If you ask me, if you really want them [fags], you will get them - be it in the local shop, a vending machine, a chemist or illicitly. So am I in favour of inconveniencing people who probably won’t break the habit? No, I think people have had enough hassle in their lives for the past few years.

As has been the trend during the pandemic, I think a lot can be learned by looking to New Zealand’s legislation. The associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced that those who are currently aged 14 years and under will never be able to buy tobacco products in New Zealand. This means that the legal smoking age will increase each year, eventually creating a smoke-free country. While I know the legal age in Ireland is 18 years, I like the increasing age idea fostered in New Zealand; it’s a ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you’ approach. If the option is never there for you or your friends, then maybe you will never try it.

Speaking as somebody who has stood like a spare you know what in a smoking area with friends who smoke, I firmly believe that many people start due to peer pressure. What starts as social smoking leads to several boxes a day and full blown addiction. New Zealand aims to stamp out the habit before it even begins by targeting the younger generation with their legislation.

Incorporating all people in their society, New Zealand also announced they will be reducing the legal amount of nicotine in tobacco products and increasing the amounts of funding to addiction services. On the first solution, I don’t think I’m too qualified to comment, but maybe starting with a gradual reduction in nicotine would help those who already smoke. On the latter, I completely agree. Aiding those who actually want to quit rather than frustrating those who don’t is crucial. Similar to Ireland, New Zealand also plans to reduce the number of outlets with tobacco products for sale.

While the measures will be a massive change no matter what country you live in, they are not the first and certainly won’t be the last. Smoking is a frequently visited topic, with possibly the most significant step taking place on March 29, 2004, when smoking was banned in workplaces including bars and restaurants. Not that I remember, but at the time I’m sure this was a massive change, which probably caused outrage and resistance for a number of years.

Eighteen years ago society probably laughed at the measure, but looking back I think most would agree it was for the better. People who do smoke may have a different opinion on this and I would be curious to know if there is still disagreement with the decision. For those who were at work or having a few with friends, it wasn't really fair that they were suffocated with smoke. At least now you can avoid the smoking area. I couldn’t imagine somebody sparking up a fag in the pub now; if they did they’d probably be run out of the place. Maybe the new legislation being considered will be the same. Everybody will resist for some time, but soon it will become the norm and you wouldn’t imagine it was ever any other way.

To smokers reading this, I’m sorry if it sounds really biased. As I said I don’t smoke but I understand that people do for various reasons including stress relief, enjoyment and in social situations. Nothing has changed in Ireland as of yet, but surveys are to be conducted this year to combine strategies to help reduce smoking in Ireland. So whether you smoke Benson religiously or have never touched a fag in your life, if you have an opinion make sure and voice it if you want to see solutions that may actually work.

In the meantime, good luck to those of you who are trying to kick the habit. Have a happy and, hopefully, healthier new year.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a second year journalism student in University of Limerick.


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