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Government considers outdoor smoking ban for parks and beaches

New measures by the government could see smoking in public parks and beaches outlawed in Ireland. The latest report from the Department of Health’s Tobacco-Free Ireland section outlines the smoking ban, which would be promoted in conjunction with local authorities. 

The Irish Independent reports that an extended smoking ban could involve voluntary measures, but also by-laws banning smoking in certain public spaces.

In a statement issued today, the Department of Health said that its Tobacco-Free Ireland programme aims to promote “tobacco-free environments” in parks, beaches and children’s playgrounds.

However, it insisted that it has no plans at present to introduce the smoking ban

“There are no current plans to legislate for smoke-free outdoor areas,” the Department said.

“Voluntary local actions are successful. As set out in the 2021 Tobacco Free Ireland Annual Report, the ‘Not Around Us’ Campaign, made up of local groups implementing smoke free spaces in their own areas, has continued to grow,” the Department added, continuing:

“Local Authorities in Wexford, Galway, and Meath launched their campaigns in 2021, promoting smoke free campuses in playgrounds and parks.”

It comes as Finian McGrath, Minister of State for Disability Issues, said the Department of Health has bigger problems to focus on in the health service without worrying about an outdoor smoking ban. He described the proposals as “picking a soft target”. He made the comments on Newstalk Breakfast this morning.

“A&Es, trollies, people on waiting lists, CF children waiting for months for drugs while [the] department and drugs companies bicker over the prices, and they’re big idea this morning is to go after smokers.

“Again, soft targets, in outdoor spaces, on beaches and public parks. I just think there’s an element of picking on a soft target, it’s not particularly persuasive as part of a major health strategy,” he said.

He said that smokers are aware that the habit is not good for their health, however, in order to persuade people to quit, you must work with them, and not against them by “marginalising people” through restricting their ability to smoke outdoors.

“The whole health thinking and the message behind the whole plan, I feel, is an overreaction by the department in relation to open spaces,” he said.

“The way forward, if you are serious about persuading people, every single smoker in the country – and as you know I am one myself – every single day we try and give up. It is an addiction. So, the way forward is education and persuasion and all of that strategy.

“Not excluding people or marginalising people”.

He continued: “Open spaces are out in the fresh air. Most smokers totally respect non-smokers and that is why designated areas in pubs and spaces like that should be allowed because you’re not harming anyone else.

“I think there is an element of the moral police coming out there. There is a lot of hypocrisy from Department of Health officials and also from broader society.

“Driving smokers underground and marginalising them never ever works”, he added.

However, Mark Murphy of the Irish Heart Foundation welcomed the recommendations set out in the report.

The charity’s Advocacy Manager said: “Banning smoking in parks and beaches is a great first step towards a tobacco endgame, but much more needs to be done”.

He pointed to statistics from Healthy Ireland, which showed a slight increase in smoking rates in Ireland, up from 17 per cent in 2019 to 18 per cent last year.

“This country led the way when we became the first in the world to introduce a workplace smoking ban 18 years ago,” he said. “But in recent years we have become complacent, as recent surveys have shown.

“Ireland urgently needs to explore more ambitious, New Zealand-style legislation to help us achieve a tobacco endgame,” Mr Murphy added.

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