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In the 1980s, it was still common to see politicians, well-known figures and even sportsmen smoking in public. Here, former taoiseach Jack Lynch takes a pipe. Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Haughey's mission against smoking and cigarette advertising

During his time as Taoiseach, Charles Haughey moved to change the culture of smoking in Ireland.

DURING HIS TIME in office, Taoiseach Charles Haughey moved to change the culture of smoking that had gripped Ireland in the early 1980s.

A letter to the then-Minister for Health Michael Woods, released under the 30-year State Papers rule, reveals his strong stance against advertising by cigarette companies.

On the 21 April 1982, he wrote, “I have recently been struck by what seems to me to be an intensified campaign of cigarette advertising which has dominated our daily and Sunday newspapers in recent times.”

He said he did not think the Government health warning, reproduced at the bottom of such colourful and prominent ads, had the impact intended in the 1978 Act. He attached a number of examples of advertising to his letter to illustrate his point:


The Taoiseach asked his Minister to look into the matter and to come up with proposals “for rectifying the situation”.

“Perhaps there is a case for a regulation obliging advertisers to incorporate an appropriate Government health warning within the colour advertisement plate rather than outside it as is the case at present,” he suggested.

  • Read Haughey’s letter, in full, to Michael Woods, here>

Documents reveal that Haughey received correspondence from Irish residents, disappointed with the public smoking of some of his Cabinet. One writer attached a published photograph of the Minister for Labour Gene Fitzgerald smoking.


Replying to a letter from Australia which criticised the number of Irish smokers, the Taoiseach’s private secretary said that Haughey was a “non-smoker” who campaigns extensively against the habit.

The moves taken by Haughey’s Government could be seen as the catalyst for Ireland becoming the first country in the EU to implement a total ban on all tobacco advertising, a development which occurred in 2009.

Now, all in-store tobacco products must be stored out-of-view of customers and self-serving vending machines are prohibited except in licensed premises and registered. Packaging must display one of two general warnings, occupying not less than 32 per cent of the front side of the pack, and one of 14 additional warnings, covering at least 45 per cent of the back of the pack. From the beginning of February next year, graphic health warnings will be required on all cigarette boxes.

The ban on smoking in public places was successfully implemented even earlier, in 2004.

-All images Paul Hyland/National Archives

For further study, see National Archive Reference No: 2012/90/207

Read all of’s stories on the 1982 State papers, just released>

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