Phelan calls for VAT drop to help smokers quit

A DAIL DEPUTY who almost lost her life as a result of being a smoker has been assured by the Minister for State Brian Hayes that he will consider a reduction on VAT on Nicotine replacement therapies.

A DAIL DEPUTY who almost lost her life as a result of being a smoker has been assured by the Minister for State Brian Hayes that he will consider a reduction on VAT on Nicotine replacement therapies.

Labour T.D. and former smoker Ann Phelan raised the matter in the Dail on Ash Wednesday. “I spoke to the Minister for State Brian Hayes and he assured me that he would raise the matter with the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan. I also spoke with the Minister for Health Dr James O’Reilly and he is also looking into what can be done,” she said.

Deputy Phelan is urging people to put out cigarettes for good and has shared her own harrrowing health experience. “Giving up smoking is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It was only until my own health was put in jeopardy that I was forced to properly stop. I suffered from a stroke a couple of years ago, and I believe my smoking habit was a key factor. I am urging people not to wait until it’s too late and ditch the cigarettes for good.

“While serious determination is needed to kick the habit, I believe that a VAT reduction on nicotine replacement therapies could further incentivise smokers to give up and I have already spoken with the Minister for Health. The problem with smoking is that the damage is often incremental and so giving up can often be put on the long finger. Thankfully, new legislation means that from now on all cigarette packets will have to display graphic images illustrating the long-term effect nicotine and tar have on our vital organs. This method is proven to be effective in communicating the true consequences of smoking.

“ The HSE runs ‘Quit.ie’, a fantastic organisation which offers vital support and information to smokers trying to quit. I would urge all smokers to explore the website and see for themselves what support is available,” she added.

Deputy Phelan suffered a stroke in April 2008 at the age of 46. She considered herself both healthy (apart from her smoking habit) and sporty as was out horseriding when she suffered a stroke.

“This sort of explosion happened in my head. I could hear something like electricity in my ears. My sight disappeared and there were little black spots in front of my eyes. When I got down, I just stumbled and couldn’t get back up again. I kept thinking at some stage pain was going to set in. I knew that there was something wrong but I had no idea what it was. I just kept waiting for the pain to come. We got into the car and went straight to Waterford Regional Hospital.

“It’s just amazing when you have a stroke because you lose everything, absolutely everything, but you can hear what everybody is saying. I could hear what the doctors were saying but I couldn’t speak. Terrifying is the only way I could describe it. All this power is leaving your body, you have no idea why, and it’s the very same as if you are drowning and there is nobody there.

“Your eyes are looking out but you can’t speak. You are a human being, used to communicating, but all of a sudden you can’t communicate.

To go from being able to be fully understood to not being able to communicate is heartbreaking. I remember seeing the doctor at the bottom of the bed and thinking, I’m drowning here and nobody even knows. My husband and my daughter were with me by then, they were terrified too.

“When the doctor asked me to describe what happened, I couldn’t speak. I kept trying to say something but nothing came out except gibberish,” she said.

The following morning doctors confirmed that she had a stroke. She spent three weeks in intensive care and a further three weeks in hospital before moving to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghire.

“I had to learn to walk again, to wash again – all the things a toddler learns, you have to really learn them again because your brain is now trying to find pathways to link with your muscles,” she said. The Labour politican spent 12 weeks in Dun Laoghire. “I set myself a goal to be out by June 30 as fellow Labour councillor, Tomas Breatnach was taking over as chairperson of the council. I had to be there for that,” she said.

Although she has made a remarkable and inspirational recovery and was elected to Dail Eireann in 2011 she admits that it is impossible to make a full recovery. “You never actually recover to 100 per cent because there is muscle damage. You lose the finesse of movement. I am left with a slight limp and there are a number of things I can’t do, like run or dance. The doctors told me the fact I was a smoker played a big part in my getting a stroke. I’d been smoking well over 25 years. I used patches while I was in the hospital and the doctor said to me, “If you smoke, you will die.” You very, very quickly figure out what’s important. I had such a good life I did not want to die; I wanted to come back to my life. he doctor explained that when you smoke, your blood gets sticky, so a clot forms more easily around any strain you have in an artery and it eventually breaks loose and goes to your brain. My outlook has radically changed since this happened. I suppose a person sometimes has to go through this kind of experience to see how lethal smoking is. It’s is a high price to pay. I haven’t smoked since,” she added.