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world no tobacco day

Despite overall decline in smoking, prevalence is rising among Ireland's most vulnerable

Smoking still causes over 4,500 deaths in Ireland each year

THE HSE HAS expressed concern over the widening gap in smoking prevalence across socio-economic groups, despite an overall decline in tobacco use in Ireland.

A new report published today to mark World No Tobacco Day reveals that there is a three-fold difference (11% versus 31%) in smoking between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups.

This gap has widened considerably as prevalence among the highest socio economic group in 2015 has dropped from 16%, while smoking among the lowest socio-economic group rose by 2%.

Dr Paul Kavanagh, HSE Public Health Medicine Specialist said overall the proportion of people who currently smoke reduced from 23% in 2015 to 18% in 2021.

However, smoking still causes over 4,00 deaths in Ireland each year. Each week in Ireland, there are over 80 deaths and almost 900 hospitalisations due to smoking-related harm. Compared to people who do not smoke, people who currently smoke are almost two times more likely to report poor health and long-standing illnesses. 

“People in more deprived areas in Ireland live 4-5 years less than those in more affluent areas,” Dr Kavanagh said.

The causes of and solutions to these health inequalities are multiple and complex; however, smoking is responsible for over half of the health gap across social groups. A key finding in the report prepared to inform a new Tobacco Free Ireland Programme Plan 2022-2025 is that against a backdrop of declining smoking prevalence, the socio-economic gradient in smoking is getting wider.

He said it was concerning to note that there was an increase in smoking prevalence from 17% in 2019 to 18% in 2021 and that smoking has increased in teenagers following a period of “historic decline”.

“Given the scale of harm, it is time to ask if we want to bring the continuing epidemic of smoking-related harm to an end, for once and for all.” Dr Kavanagh said.

“We put this question to the public to involve them in development of the new TFI Programme Plan 2022-2025. Three in four people want a “Tobacco-Free Ireland” for the next generation and see this as achievable. Support was high for decisive action to bring the tobacco epidemic to an end.

And people told us they support the steps needed to ensure that people who smoke are not left behind. New tobacco endgame ideas supported by the public included reducing nicotine content of cigarettes so they are less addictive, extending the scope of legally protected smoke-free spaces, increasing the age below which retail of tobacco products is prohibited, and providing more support to people who currently smoke to help them stop.

The HSE’s new plan outline a number of actions across the health service to tackle the harm caused by smoking. A key focus for the plan, the HSE has said, will be responding to the needs of population groups with higher smoking prevalence so as to reduce health inequalities.

The plan will see the introduction of almost 50 new roles in ‘stop smoking’ services across the country, an investment of approximately €3 million each year, as well as a community-led programme to encourage people to stop smoking.

More information on services to help you stop smoking can be found here

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