By Dr Joanna Purdy, Public Health Development Officer at the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH)
A blog for European Public Health Week, Day 2 theme “Creating heathier environments”
I spotted a video recently from the RTÉ archive. It was from 1988 and RTÉ journalist Shay Healy hopped on-board a Dublin bus to talk to commuters about the newly introduced smoking ban on buses. “It’s very hard,” said one passenger, “I think it’s a great idea…you could choke,” said another.
The Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) Act 1988 banned smoking in public buildings, hospitals, public pharmacies, schools, banking halls, cinemas, restaurant kitchens, part of all restaurants, on public transport aircraft and buses, and some trains (Intercity trains provided smokers’ carriages).
We’ve come a long way since then in tackling the harm caused by tobacco – but there is still work to do.
Second-hand smoke (SHS) is harmful to everyone and is a risk factor for a number of respiratory conditions and certain cancers. Exposure to SHS is particularly harmful to vulnerable people, such as infants and children, as they are often unable to remove themselves from a smoking environment. It is also known that persistent health inequalities exist in relation to children’s exposure to SHS.
The number of children across the island of Ireland who experience exposure to cigarette smoke in the home and car is concerning. A report by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) revealed that almost 1 in 5 children in the Republic of Ireland were exposed to SHS in the car. Also, more than twice as many 9 year olds living in the lowest income households were exposed to SHS compared to children in the highest income households.
In Northern Ireland, 80% of adults reported that smoking is not permitted in the home, increasing to 87% when children were resident in the home. Three in 10 children aged 11-16 years (who lived with an adult smoker) reported that smoking was permitted in the family car. Among households with a car, those from the least disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to report that smoking was not permitted (81%) compared to 51% of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
Public health policy has an important role to play in creating healthy environments and protecting people from SHS, particularly children. Tobacco control policies across the island of Ireland include measures to reduce exposure and protect people from SHS.
The Republic of Ireland was the first country in the world to introduce legislation banning smoking in the workplace. The Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Act was introduced in 2004 and aimed to protect workers from the harmful effects of SHS. Since the smoking ban, governments across the island have sought to create more smoke-free environments through smoke-free policies for government buildings and health and social care settings.
Other sectors, such as universities have also embraced smoke-free policies across their campuses. These measures are important in not only reducing exposure to SHS but helping to create an environment and society where smoking is no longer the norm. There have been some local projects in Northern Ireland to establish ‘smoke-free touch lines’ at children’s sporting events as well the introduction of smoke-free playgrounds across the island.
All of these measures and initiatives are significant progress, but we must continue to seize other opportunities to create a healthier island. Opportunities include the further expansion of smoke-free policies at school gates, as well as the implementation of legislation in Northern Ireland restricting smoking in cars where children are present, which is subject to government endorsement. Why limit the potential of a proven method of protecting children’s health.
RTÉ Archive video - https://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/1980-smoking/602061-no-smoking-on-buses/