Originally published in Volume V, Issue 4 on 10th November 1998 by Sarah Egan.
The Department of Health is to investigate the practise of sponsorship the planned distribution of free cigarettes at last week’s Law Ball. The Law Society had intended to provide free cigarettes to those attending the ball, despite complaints from the Irish Cancer Society, as reported in the last issue of the University Observer. It has become common practise in recent years for student societies to receive such sponsorship from cigarette manufacturers.
The issue of tobacco sponsorship was discussed at a lunchtime debate on Thursday prior to the ball. The Chief Executive of the Irish Cancer Society, Barry Dempsey, raised the question of the legality of the arrangement. The Law Society auditor, Andrew Fitzpatrick, stated that Law Soc had looked at the legal situation and were confident that the deal did not breach any regulations, adding “we are the Law Society after all.” According to Barry Dempsey, “both during the debate and after the Law Soc committee did explain that they had investigated the matter and that our opinion was wrong.”
On Tuesday, the day of the event, the issue received substantial coverage in the national media which led to a considerable outcry from other anti-smoking lobby groups. Barry Dempsey denied that the Irish Cancer Society had specifically contacted any members of the national media while acknowledging “we have conversations with journalists on an ongoing basis.” He also rejected the notion that the Irish Cancer Society had complained to the Department of Health about the issue. He said he was never actually certain that the sponsorship deal was illegal until the evening of the Law Society that the distribution of the cigarettes would not go ahead, he was under the impression that “they thought that it was too difficult and that there may have been a question mark over the legality of the arrangement.”
The decision not to proceed with the arrangement was actually taken after the Law Society received a phone call from the Eastern Health Board. Prior to this, it was believed that the arrangement was legal, as similar arrangements have been made in the past and it was also understood that “any possible legal burden lay with the tobacco company involved.” The Health Board official did not specify under which particular section of the tobacco regulations, Statutory Instrument 326 1991, the arrangement was illegal, however, after reviewing the situation, the Law Soc committee decided that they would not go ahead with the deal and to “sever all ties” with the tobacco company.
When asked by the Observer what laws were being breached by the Law Society, the Eastern Health Board official involved replied “I haven’t got the specific details to hand…I don’t really want to get into it.” A spokesperson for the Eastern Health Board told the Observer that the law in question was “the tobacco legislation” and said that the two environmental health officials who attended the event would have known the specific regulations. The Observer was unable to contact the Department of Health.
L&H auditor, Barry Ward, stated that the Law Society were right to seek tobacco sponsorship when they did not believe it was illegal and that the L&H had intended to seek similar sponsorship for the Strauss Ball. “If it was legal and a tobacco company would sponsor the L&H, I would have no problem with that. It’s my job to do the best for the society, not to worry about moral issues.” C&E auditor Colin Hetherington, expressed a similar opinion “people should be able to have the choice of free cigarettes if they want them…it’s the little things like that that add to a night.”
SU President John Nisbet denied that there is any possibility that the deal between the SU and a cigarette company to refurbish the SU shops is illegal. However, the said that the controversy about tobacco sponsorship “raised some very important considerations, it is important for the Students’ Union to make sure we’re not breaking the law.”