Patients urge speedy passing of plain pack law

23 Jan 2014
Patients supporting plain pack law outside Dail Eireann

Sufferers of smoking-related heart attack, lung cancer and chronic respiratory disease today urged the Government to enact “crucial” plain packaging of tobacco products legislation as quickly as possible.

Speaking in Buswell’s Hotel, Dublin before the start of public hearings at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill, the group said the legislation was vital to protect a new generation of children and young people from the pain, suffering and premature death caused by smoking.

The event was organised by a coalition of health and children’s charities, including the ISPCC, Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Irish Asthma Society, the Irish Thoracic Society, COPD Ireland, ASH Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation. They have come together to support Government efforts to protect children’s health by removing all branding and inserting large graphic warnings on cigarette packs and other tobacco products.

Mother of two, Charlotte Heaphey, who suffered a heart attack four years ago at the age of just 47, said the State had a duty to protect children who were “too young to know better” from the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry through the adoption of plain packaging.

“I was just 11 when I started smoking,” said Charlotte, from Co Meath. “I wasn’t even finished primary school. Never did I think I would have a heart attack and certainly not at 47 years old. Not one day goes by now that I don’t think about how close I came to leaving my children without a mother. And all because of cigarettes. As a mother, I am speaking today for the protection of my own children and to support the introduction of plain packaging. As someone who has looked death in the eye, I am here to warn the parents of all 11-year-olds and teens around Ireland that there is nothing good about smoking.”

Frank Cox, from Dublin, was 66 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer – the same age as his father when he died from the disease. He only survived after surgery to remove part of his lung followed by lengthy chemotherapy treatment and describes himself as ‘one of the lucky ones’. “As a lung cancer survivor, I think we owe plain packaging to those lives lost to tobacco in this country. They may have lost their battle but we can fight this battle for their children and grandchildren,” he said.

Protecting the Next Generation

By introducing the legislation, the State could particularly help protect the next generation – those who have yet to take their first drag of a cigarette. “I started smoking at a young age,” said Frank. “I see young kids today still smoking, despite all we now know about cigarettes. I want the next generation to know that smoking really does kill and to realise that it is not normal for a product to be on the market which kills people.

“Plain packaging will help this – it will help show that cigarettes are not normal consumer products which can carry normal branding. A pack will show an image of what smoking will do to your body and all packs will look the same. I wish plain packaging had been around when I was a kid and picking up my first cigarette.”

50-year-old Paula Newman from Dublin has seen a dramatic decline in her quality of life since being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) five years ago and told smoking was a major factor.

She had to give up her job as a chef because she can no longer work in kitchens; she can’t dance, or go to concerts; she can’t go to many department stores because of fumes from perfume and cosmetic stands; and she loves comedy but can't watch her favourite programmes without a nebuliser because of coughing fits.

Paula said: “Smoking has ruined my life. It’s taken away my job and I have no social life. Even going out in my local area, I’ve had to be brought home by police or total strangers as I’m sometimes unable to walk and look ready to collapse. I started smoking when I was 16. I thought I was invincible and didn't heed the warnings on cigarettes. I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer like I’m suffering. That’s why I support this law.”

For Breda Flood from Co Wexford, who was first diagnosed with asthma in 1983, it’s the effects of other people’s smoking, rather than smoking herself, that’s the problem. Smoking is the most dangerous trigger for asthma attacks which claim the life of one person a week in Ireland and result in thousands more being hospitalised.

“Prior to the smoking ban, restaurants and particularly pubs were no go areas for me,” she said. “Yet, despite my best efforts to avoid smoke or places where people are smoking, tobacco still poses a significant risk to my health. Personally I have needed emergency care as the result of breathing in someone else’s tobacco smoke at a hurling match. This took place outdoors when I wasn’t even standing next to the smoker.”

Ms Flood added that despite the risks, many people with asthma and parents of children with asthma, smoke. “Smoking with asthma may seem crazy, but we know that tobacco is so addictive it can override logic and even someone’s desire to quit. For this reason it is so important that the plain packaging legislation is passed.”

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