Inspectors struggle with tobacco laws

An appeal from the environmental health profession for more inspectors to enforce tobacco legislation has been ignored by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The profession, which was charged with policing the smoking ban without a single additional post is now struggling with a raft of new public health legislation.
Annmarie Part, chairperson of the Environmental Health Officers Association, (EHOA) appealed to the Health Minister Mary Harney for more resources to the profession, in a written submission on the further enactments of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts last November.

There have been no additional health inspectors appointed to the HSE in the past four years.

“Our profession took on the enforcement of the workplace smoking ban in 2004 without a single additional Environmental Health Officer post. Since then we have been given responsibility for further enactments of legislation enforcement provisions again with no further resources,” the letter, obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, read.

“It is unrealistic therefore to expect the Environmental Health Profession to continue to the sustain the enforcement of these proposed enactments without officers actually being in place in advance of the legislation coming into force. Legislation is only effective if enforceable and enforced.”

The HSE released the submission as part of an FOI request made by anti-tobacco lobby ASH Ireland for submissions it received in relation to the Public Health Acts.

The majority of the EHOA's 500 members work for the HSE.

The Office of Tobacco Control, chief executive Éamonn Rossi in March said the HSE health inspectors, who enforce the ban on sales to minors, would be stepping up sting operations on retailers.

Despite this, and the announcement last month (July 9) that advertising and display of tobacco products in retail outlets would be banned within 12 months, the HSE has confirmed that no new positions will be created for environmental health officers.

Under the new legislation all cigarette retailers must be registered.

Current chair of the EHOA, Morris Mulcahy said the latest enactment of the Public Health Act would be more labour intensive than the smoking ban.

“It was easier with smoke-free because everybody bought into it. This [legislation] will take a bit more work; it looks to register every single retailer in the country and will require inspections to make sure everybody complies.”

He said the association would have to prioritise certain legislation over others.

“The reality is there is a recession on and there is a recruitment freeze in the HSE. It's just a question of what comes first. In previous times when resources were prevalent we could just be allocated more but now we have to move around what we have.”

The 2007 annual report from the Office of Tobacco Control showed environmental health officers carried out 28,982 smoking ban inspections and a further 2,000 compliance checks for cigarettes being sold in packs of less than 20, which were banned last May in an attempt to tackle smoking among young people.