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News / May 13, 2024

Smoking age could rise from 18 to 21

by Rowan Thomas

Smoking age could rise from 18 to 21

This week, health minister Stephen Donnelly will seek approval for legislation that would raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

The new legislation will be put before cabinet this week. It has been designed to allow those currently between the ages of 18 and 20 to continue smoking, but prevent the next generation from legally adopting the habit.

Stephen Donnelly said: ‘Really it’s a measure aimed at people who are 15, 16 and 17 years of age. With a smoking age at 18, they find it relatively easy to buy cigarettes… but that if you move to 21 it makes it much more difficult.’

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) recently published a report on the potential impact of raising the smoking age to 21. The report suggests that the legislation could reduce smoking among 15- to 17-year-olds by one quarter. It cites evidence from areas where the legal age has already been raised. For example, in Needham Massachusetts, smoking rates were cut in half when the legal smoking age was increased to 21.

The report stresses the need for ‘ambitious’ measures such as those proposed by the new legislation. It says: ‘Ireland’s tobacco endgame strategy needs more innovative and ambitious measures to save lives and in doing so, to re-assert Ireland’s position as both a European and global leader in tobacco control.’

Support for raising the smoking age

A 2021 poll from The Irish Heart Association found that 73% of participants supported raising the smoking age to 21. This included 73% of participants aged 18 to 24.

Chris Macey is head of advocacy at The Irish Heart Foundation. He said: ‘One in every three young people who start smoking will die of a tobacco-related illness. And for every death a further 30 will suffer a smoking-related disease such as stroke, heart disease, cancer and COPD.

‘It would be an utter dereliction of our duty of care not to protect our young people from the death and destruction caused by smoking in every corner of the country on a daily basis – we have got to find an end game to tobacco addiction. If cigarettes were invented today, they would simply not be legal.’

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