Secretary of state says government wants to “help those who want to quit smoking”
Portugal’s secretary of state for health promotion told parliament on Thursday that the government’s tobacco law proposal “is not prohibitionist” and that the ministry was working to “help those who want to quit smoking”.
“Our proposal is not prohibitionist. What we want to do is regulate. By reducing the number of places where smoking is possible, by reducing the number of sales outlets and by equating [heat-not-burn and traditional] tobacco, we aim to protect children and young people,” Margarida Tavares said on Thursday.
In a plenary debate discussing an amendment to introduce new restrictions on the sale of tobacco and the places where people can smoke, Margarida Tavares was confronted by questions from the Social Democrats (PSD) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) about the impact these changes would have on the industry, particularly in Madeira and the Azores, as well as what measures are underway to help smokers.
“This law excels at being progressive and has transitional rules that allow society and shops and so on to adapt,” she said, recalling the dates of the new law.
According to the proposed law, the definitive elimination of smoking in enclosed areas will only come into force in 2030, allowing businesses to recover the investment they made in adapting their establishments.
Before that, from 2025, the ban on the sale of tobacco in places where smoking is prohibited will be extended, and spaces where vending machines are allowed will be redefined.
“We’ll give them time to adapt,” the secretary of state said.
As for consultations to stop smoking, Margarida Tavares didn’t specify what the increase would be but said that the government “is working” to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in this area.
The secretary of state also said that the measures proposed in this amendment to the law “are for the protection of the population” and recalled the objective put forward by the government to ensure that the younger generations reach 2040 as a tobacco-free generation. She also spoke of the intention to “denormalise tobacco consumption”; in other words, “not to teach children and young people that smoking is a normal act”.
As for information campaigns, she admitted that “they have to be publicised”, and as far as warnings are concerned, she said that these “exist and are being run throughout Europe”.
She was responding to requests for clarification from Miguel Santos of the PSD and João Dias of the PCP.
The Social Democrat MP pointed out that this law would have a major impact on the autonomous regions and, addressing the minister of health, Manuel Pizarro, who was also in the plenary session of parliament, accused the government of not having included data on this matter in the proposal.
The issue is, as the Fábrica de Tabaco Micaelense (FTM) has said, that this industry employs around 100 workers across the Azores and Madeira.
The PSD also pointed out that smoking cessation consultations have fallen by 4.8% and that intensive support and consultation centres have “fallen by more than half”.
“This part [of prevention and support for smokers] is lame, and it’s the part that does the most work,” said Miguel Santos.
João Dias called for “no persecutory attitude towards smokers” and asked about the involvement of schools in these measures, also pointing to the need to reinforce smoking cessation consultations.
“In 2019, we had 215 consultation centres, and today we have 112,” she lamented.
Earlier, Margarida Tavares, in an introduction to the discussion, said that the government “chose the ambition to revise the law without excusing and stigmatising those who smoke” and, presenting figures, argued that “it would be an inexcusable mistake” not to fight “the tobacco epidemic”.
“In Portugal, every half hour, at least one person dies from smoking (…). A smoker lives, on average, 10 years less than a non-smoker (…). We have the second worst results in Europe in terms of exposure to tobacco,” were some of the figures presented.
The tobacco law proposal equates traditional tobacco with heat-not-burn, tightens the noose on vending machines and bans smoking outdoors near schools, colleges or hospitals.
One of the measures initially included in the bill was a ban on the sale of tobacco at petrol stations, which was opposed by representatives of the sector and which the government dropped on the grounds that, in some places, “the place to buy tobacco was too far away”.