I finally kicked smoking on 1 January 1972. It was a huge struggle, as nicotine is as addictive as heroin, but it was my New Year resolution and I was able to stick with it.
In recent years, cigarette advertising has been forbidden in many countries and successful campaigns have been run to help people give them up. A hard-hitting advertisement on Irish television in 2013 heard Gerry Collins, a former Dublin footballer, admit that he was dying from lung cancer even though he had given up smoking 10 years earlier.
Gerry’s message was clear and powerful, “I’m going to die soon, from smoking. I’m not dying from anything other than cigarettes.” His final message was, “Don’t smoke. Don’t start and for those who have, stop.”
The advertisement was highly successful. The Health Service Executive estimated that 125,000 people in Ireland gave up smoking because of it. Tobacco related diseases kill almost 6,000 in Ireland every year and many of the 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes causes lung and heart disease and cancer.
Because smoking causes such havoc in the lives of smokers, governments have been keen to regulate where people can smoke. The Irish government was the first to place restrictions on smoking in public buildings in 2004.
Many people claimed that pubs on the southern side of the border with Northern Ireland would lose business and be forced to close. This did not happen. In fact, other governments followed the Irish example almost immediately.
Now governments are looking at other possibilities to reduce smoking, especially among young people. Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, said, “Plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products. It kills the glamour, which is appropriate for a product that kills people.”
She also pointed out, “It restricts tobacco advertising and promotion. It limits misleading packaging and labelling. And it increases the effectiveness of health warnings.”
Plain packaging is recommended in in the guidelines of the World Health Association as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control that includes large graphic health warnings and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Although smoking in Australia has been steadily declining for years, the government introduced plain packaging, together with new and enlarged health warnings, in 2012.
It is estimated that between December 2012 and September 2015, plain packaging saw an additional 0.55 percentage point fall in smoking prevalence among those aged 14 and above.
The initiative helped more than 108,000 people quit cigarettes. Plain packaging has been praised by Oleg Chestnov, the assistant director-general for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at the health association.
He claims that Australia’s plain packaging results demonstrate the great potential of the measure, “Plain packaging can reduce consumption of tobacco products, as clearly seen in Australia. It offers a powerful tool to countries as part of a comprehensive approach to tackle the scourge of tobacco use.”
Tobacco kills almost six million people annually across the globe.
Plain packaging got a boost from the European Court of Justice, when it rejected a case brought by big cigarette companies in December 2015 against plain packaging.
In a preliminary ruling, the advocate general of the court found that the standardisation of labelling and packaging is a proportionate measure that decreases the coolness of the product.
But, as Kathleen O’Meara, from the Irish Cancer Society points out, “Big Tobacco threw everything at stopping the introduction of plain packaging in Ireland, because it needs to recruit 50 new smokers every day to replace those dying and quitting.”
May be a worthwhile New Year resolution.
• Father Sean McDonagh