Health First.

February 26th, 2013

Pictured with Mairead is Irish Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD, Tonio Borg, EU Commissioner for Health and Matthias Groote MEP, Chair of the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

It was great to listen to Minister for Health James Reilly in the European Parliament on Monday debating the revision of the Tobacco Directive with the passion of someone who knows the damage caused by smoking.

The Irish Presidency of the EU is working hard towards agreeing tougher rules on cigarette smoking. The European Parliament is also determined to do the same, but there are some who believe that the tobacco industry provides jobs and that taxation of cigarettes generates tax for member states.

We cannot allow those arguments to derail an ambitious attempt to make smoking unattractive and to stop the targeting of young people by cigarette manufacturers.

The damage caused to public health from smoking is well know and demands tough action.

The costs in terms of ill health and death are enormous. 700,000 people die every year in the EU from smoking related illness. In monetary terms, this costs €25.3 billion annually.

The objective of revising the EU tobacco legislation is to reduce the attractiveness of smoking, especially to young people.

The European Union’s Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg joined the Irish Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, at the hearing.

Disguising the real taste of tobacco and the real smell of tobacco using flavourings and perfumes is unacceptable and must stop. Likewise the look of cigarette packaging in some member states is very attractive to young people and young women in particular and again this must be tackled.

The aim of the new Tobacco Products Directive is to ensure that when people look at a tobacco product that they will immediately know that it will damage their health and it is then up to people who decide to smoke to do so based on real information about what these products can do to them.

The number of children between the age of 10 and 17 years who are smoking in Ireland is now 12 per cent, down from 18 per cent between 2002-2010. While this reduction is welcome, it is still too high. We must protect children and young people and the best way to do this is to discourage them from starting to smoke in the first place.

However, I warned that policymakers will face even greater future challenges as the implications of the revision of the existing directive are revealed.

The question of tax revenue from sales of tobacco and the real and serious problem of the illicit trade in cigarettes in Member States must also be addressed in parallel with the revision of this directive.

Minister Reilly put it very well when he said we cannot build economies on selling carcinogenic products.

Pension plans

We are all aware of the importance of planning for future retirement, and acutely conscious of the risks associated with various savings initiatives, as highlighted by the declining value of private pension schemes following the economic crisis.

The EU is progressing plans to revise how we plan for retirement with the aim of securing a more sustainable system. Many countries are also attempting to introduce reforms to both the public and private pension sectors.

A European Commission White Paper entitled, An Agenda for Adequate, Safe and Sustainable Pensions (2012), highlighted steps to ensure adequate and sustainable pensions. Progress on implementing these reforms will continue during the Irish EU Presidency.

Speaking at a European Conference on Emerging Challenges in the Impact of Taxes on Pensions this week (Monday), the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, confirmed that his service is reviewing better protection measures for occupational pension rights in the event of insolvency of an employer.

The Commission has also established a task force under the Pension Forum which will soon start working on a code of good practice for occupational schemes. Information services for citizens will be increased in order to build greater awareness.

Commissioner Andor stressed the need to underpin these measures with “employment and social policies that promote active ageing and longer participation in the labour market”.

It is imperative that we support older citizens in living healthier, more active lives in their communities for longer. However, having chaired the European Parliament’s Inquiry into the near collapse of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, I continue to advocate for firm measures to protect pensioners from the loss of pensions, and their livelihoods, in future.

Local expertise

I want to extend my congratulations to Julie Cullen, a teacher at St Oliver’s Community College in Drogheda, who will represent Ireland on the Young Advisor’s Expert Group for the EU’s Digital Agenda, under a European Commission initiative.

Julie is one of just 25 experts appointed to the high-level forum and was chosen from applicants from all over Europe. Described as ‘a group of talented and inspiring young people’, the experts will be called on to give their opinion on how best to grow and develop our digital economy.

It is wonderful to see local people getting involved in the EU decision making process by providing valuable input which will inevitably help shape the future of Europe’s Digital Agenda.

Wicklow’s Oscar

And finally, Wicklow will be celebrating the big Oscar win by Daniel Day-Lewis at the annual Academy Awards. The Anglo-Irish actor won Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln. The Wicklow-based star even made history as the first man to win three best actor awards. I am sure his fellow Wicklow residents are very proud of his success and of his links to the locality. The Irish premiere of Lincoln was even screened in Wicklow in order to raise much needed funds for the Wicklow Hospice Foundation, of which Daniel Day-Lewis is a patron.

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