National Archives - Haughey used tax threat to curb tobacco promotion

CHARLES HAUGHEY, as health minister, threatened to land tobacco companies with an advertisement tax if they refused to co-operate with his moves to curb smoking.

Haughey took charge of health in July 1977 under Jack Lynch following a landslide victory for Fianna Fáil. It was his first foray as a minister, since he was dismissed by Lynch during the 1970 arms crises.

During his years in the political wilderness, Haughey himself had given up smoking.

By November 1977, he had a ruthless determination to restrict smoking, a memorandum for Government on the control of advertising and smoking of tobacco reveals.

Haughey said “satisfactory” progress was being made through his department’s health education bureau, but added: “It is considered to be in need of reinforcing by way of restricting the tobacco companies’ promotional activities and the creation of an environment in which smoking becomes increasingly unacceptable.”

Fianna Fáil had pledged in its election manifesto to give high priority to funding of “preventive medical and health education with particular attention to smoking”.

The pressure was “great” on Lynch’s government for smoke-free zones from the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society among others, the memorandum stated.

A voluntary code with cigarette manufacturers against the glamorising of smoking as well as the inclusion of health warnings on packets already existed.

Furthermore, a voluntary ban on television and radio advertisements had been in place for a number of years.

Haughey told cabinet he wanted to completely ban advertisements and sponsorship by tobacco companies. But this was considered to be “unreasonably draconian”, his memo said.

Instead, tobacco companies were to be asked to keep advertisement expenditures to 1977 levels and to stop using “money off” offers to promote particular tobacco brands.

Tobacco advertisements would be limited to adult only films in cinemas but eventually phased out at screenings after three years.

Haughey also proposed ending advertising through posters and illuminated signs.

Sponsorship was also restricted to financial support, to be frozen at 1977 levels and tobacco companies were banned from backing youth events.

Any contention of Haughey’s proposals by tobacco companies would be met with sanctions, the memorandum told government.

“If agreement of these proposals is not forthcoming from the tobacco industry it will be indicated to them that the Minister for Health will consider seeking the imposition of a tax on tobacco advertising, the revenue from which would be spent on anti-smoking campaigns.”

The memorandum proposed extending non-smoking areas in clinics and hospitals, discouraging the habit in schools and increasing smoke-free areas on trains, buses and aircraft.

Restaurant, hotel and theatre owners were also to be asked to provide non-smoking seating. Food hygiene regulations would also be changed banning smoking near food handlers.

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