Health Minister Robin Swann presented plans that will continue to tackle the damage to children and young people from tobacco and secondhand smoke.
The Minister of Health outlined his plans to prioritize and advance regulations on smoking in cars in the presence of children, as well as to prevent the sale of nicotine-inhaled products to under-18s.
Minister Swann said: “Tobacco use continues to be a leading cause of preventable health problems and premature death in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we maximize our efforts to reduce the prevalence of smoking and protect people, especially children, from the effects of second-hand smoke.
Legislation is already in place which prohibits smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles, including on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person.
The proposed new regulations would extend the current smoke-free provisions to private vehicles where children are present, when there is more than one person in the car and the vehicle is closed. It is also proposed that failure to prevent smoking in a private, smoke-free vehicle becomes an offense.
The Minister said: “Children and youth are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke because they breathe faster and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults.
“The Royal College of Physicians has reported that this may lead to an increased risk of asthma, lower respiratory tract infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as ” a reduction in respiratory function.
“These planned regulations will play an important role in protecting children from the harms of nicotine addiction and smoking. I anticipate that, subject to the approval of the Assembly, these regulations will be operational early next year. ”
The minister also outlined his plans to prevent the sale of nicotine-inhaled products, such as electronic cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 18, under the Miscellaneous Health Provisions Act (NI ) 2016. It will also be an offense to purchase such products. on behalf of a child (proxy purchase offense). These offenses mirror the current offenses relating to the sale of tobacco.
Minister Swann said: “Nicotine is highly addictive and, according to the World Health Organization, exposure to nicotine during adolescence can have long-term consequences for brain development. In addition to the potential long-term health implications of e-cigarette use by adolescents, there are also concerns that it may serve as a gateway to smoking.
“The prevalence of smoking among young people in Northern Ireland has been steadily declining in recent years, and I don’t want this trend to reverse because young people, who may not have been initially encouraged to smoking tobacco, instead become addicted to nicotine via electronic cigarettes. ”
In conclusion, the Minister confirmed that the current tobacco control strategy will be extended.
“There have been a number of important developments in the area of tobacco and nicotine control since the introduction of the current strategy,” added Minister Swann.
“As a result, a mid-term review has been undertaken and work is underway to implement the recommendations of the review. It is important that we allow sufficient time for the recommendations to be implemented. Therefore, the current strategy will be extended for a further period. This will allow action to be taken to address the obvious inequalities in tobacco use and associated health outcomes. ”