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‘Roll-your-own’ on the rise in Ireland despite fall in the number of smokers

People more likely to use RYO tobacco are male, aged under 25 and unemployed or from a lower socioeconomic group.

Roll-Your-Own Cigarettes in Ireland — Key Patterns and Trends is the first detailed examination of RYO consumption from the HSE’s National Tobacco Control Office monthly survey of smoking prevalence.

Ms Martina Blake, HSE Tobacco-Free Ireland Programme, said that this research shows that the proportion of smokers using RYO cigarettes has increased significantly. 

“Today’s findings show us that Irish people are consuming fewer cigarettes overall, but more people than ever are using roll-your-own tobacco. It is particularly alarming that so many smokers under 25 years of age (44.9 per cent) use them. Evidence shows that roll-your-own smokers become more addicted and are less likely to quit.

“We want to warn smokers not to be fooled by the tobacco industry’s marketing. Roll-your-own tobacco has devastating health impacts, just like manufactured cigarettes.  Roll-your-own tobacco is a cheaper tobacco product and we suspect that price is one of the main reasons for switching to smoking roll-your-own products.”

She continued: “Roll-your-own tobacco is also chosen as people incorrectly perceive it to be a healthier alternative to manufactured cigarettes, carrying less risk. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Roll-your-own tobacco is just as harmful as smoking factory-made cigarettes — smokers need to know that all tobacco kills, whether manufactured or roll-your-own. There is also evidence to show that risks are higher for roll-your-own smokers in terms of particular cancers, such as cancer of the oesophagus, mouth, pharynx and larynx.

“The HSE wants smokers to know that they will be supported to QUIT with free help from our stop-smoking advisors. We know that people who join our smoking support programme are more likely to quit for good. We understand how difficult quitting can be but with support, the journey can be made a little easier. Our professionally-trained counsellors can offer counselling support and advice throughout a smoker’s quitting journey and can advise on a range of medications which can help. There are 74 free stop-smoking clinics across Ireland, which you can find at quit.ie/clinics.”

The warning comes as new data from the HSE’s National Tobacco Control Office shows that:-

The proportion of smokers using manufactured cigarettes has declined from 96.5 per cent in 2003 to 75.4 per cent in 2014.

A greater proportion of smokers under 25 years smoke RYO cigarettes (44.9 per cent).This age group are over three times more likely to smoke RYO cigarettes.

Male smokers are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke RYO cigarettes compared to females.

Smoking prevalence is highest among lower socioeconomic groups. A significantly higher proportion of smokers who were unemployed smoked RYO cigarettes, with unemployed smokers 2.3 times more likely to smoke RYO.

Report authors Dr David Evans, Mr Paul Hickey and Dr Anne O’Farrell also highlight the targeted marketing of RYO products and the tax differential between RYO tobacco and manufactured cigarettes.

Dr Evans said: “The growth in roll-your-own consumption has been supported by the introduction of a number of new roll-your-own products in recent years, such as combination packs including tobacco, filters, papers, rolling machines, tubes containing filters, different sized products ranging from 9-25 gram and the introduction of roll-your-own versions of premium brand manufactured cigarettes. These products are often marketed to highlight the value they offer to consumers.

“On 20 May of this year, new legislation was introduced that increased the weight of tobacco in a unit pack of roll-your-own tobacco to a minimum weight of 30 grams per unit pack. It is envisaged that this measure will deter younger smokers because the cost per pack will be significantly higher. New and more graphic health warnings on the packs along with the QUIT support information will also help to discourage consumption and encourage those who consume tobacco products to seek support to quit.”

Dr Evans also pointed out: “Robust evidence exists demonstrating that higher tobacco taxes and prices are the single most effective measure to reduce overall tobacco use. However, the effectiveness of this measure will not be fully achieved if roll-your-own tobacco remains significantly cheaper than manufactured cigarettes, as many people may choose roll-your-own tobacco rather than quitting smoking. The price differential between roll-your-own and manufactured cigarettes has been reduced in recent budgets, and we need to determine if further reductions can be made.”

Roll-Your-Own Cigarettes in Ireland – Key Patterns and Trends is available as a PDF download at www.hse.ie/tobaccocontrol. 

Research demonstrates power of peer support in mental health

rish research has provided important evidence about the transformative power that peer support programmes can have for people recovering from mental illness.

The researchers from Trinity College Dublin carried out in-depth interviews with 26 people who went through a programme of peer support recovery with the mental health charity GROW. Those interviewed had experienced a range of mental health difficulties, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.

It was found that while medical treatment and mental health professionals can be a vital start to some people’s recovery, mental health problems can also be resolved through peer and community support and everyday social interactions. They argue that while peer support has long been valued in recovery from various addictions, it remains an under-used strategy within a mental health system that is currently under serious resource pressures.

They found that recovery from mental illness through the hopeful, non-hierarchical culture of a programme of peer support could be experienced as a ‘re-enchantment with life’ where individuals with mental health problems moved through a number of stages towards recovery. People described how they escaped from the alienated isolation of mental illness through participation in the small, compassionate social body of a weekly mutual support group.

 Speaking about the research, Professor in Mental Health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College, and co-author of the study, Prof Agnes Higgins, said: “Part of the challenge in transforming mental health services is the lack of evidence-based studies focusing on the process and outcomes of peer support services. We believe that this research provides strong evidence of the value of peer support services and is in line with the Health Service Executive plans of transforming mental health services from a medical to a recovery orientation. We hope that it will encourage practitioners to include peer support within the menu of recovery options offered to people with a mental health problem. This would, however, require ongoing sustainable funding for peer-led services within the community.”

Through interviews with the participants of the GROW programme, it became evident that for many of those interviewed, negative life experiences such as bullying, abuse, bereavement, isolation or family disharmony led to a slow build-up of distress, leading to emotional chaos. In the absence of someone to listen and deal with the resultant trauma, powerful emotions of terror, rage and despair impacted on each person’s thinking and behaviour so they began to mistrust life and became trapped in a spiral of personal isolation and what was termed ‘dialogues of terror’. The researchers found that, for many, seeking professional help and being treated like an ‘illness’ rather than as a resourceful person added to their distress.

 The second stage was where the individual became immersed in ‘dialogues of healing’ through the peer support group, where they found themselves developing trust, becoming hopeful, experiencing a sense of personal value and belonging, and the nurturing of the beginnings of personal empowerment. Within the ‘social womb’ of the group, they were actively encouraged by their peers to believe in themselves, take responsibility, engage in legitimate risks and take on leadership roles within the group. In this way, over time, a sense of personal potential and resilience heralded a desire to become re-involved in society.

The final stage, ‘dialogues of becoming’, saw individuals becoming active agents of their own recovery through increased focus on healthy life choices and the re-authoring of identities. Social involvements such as studying, socialising, leisure activities, volunteering and working not only enabled inclusion but also provided a challenging context for further growth.

The research findings and stories have been published as a book titled Narratives of Recovery from Mental Illness, published by Routledge.

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