Cabinet approves raising smoking age to 21 – but vaping age to remain at 18

Ireland aims to become the first country in the EU to ban smoking among under-21s after the Government today approved plans to increase the age of sale of tobacco to 21.

However, the new legislation will not see a ban applying to those currently aged between 18 and 20 and will not cover vaping. While the sale of vapes to under-18s has been banned since last December, there are currently no plans to extend this ban to the age of 21.

In response to a query from Irish Medical Times, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “At this point in time, there is insufficient evidence of health harms to adults to justify this restriction applying to nicotine inhaling products. However, the Minister (for Health) will continue to monitor the emerging evidence and keep such a measure under review.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “This is a tough new measure, but the health impacts of tobacco smoking are immense and require tough responses. I am determined to progress legislation that will protect children and young people from this lethal product and ultimately save lives.

“I am confident this measure will help young people avoid a lifetime of addiction and illness from tobacco smoking. Analysis from the US Institute of Medicine shows that increasing the age of sale to 21 will act to limit the social sources of cigarettes for our children and young people under 18 as they will be less likely to be in social groups with persons who can legally purchase cigarettes.”

It is hoped that the new legislation will cut smoking rates here. Currently, 18 per cent of the population over the age of 15 are smokers. Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke kills an estimated 4,500 people per year here, as well as leading to a wide range of diseases affecting thousands more.

“Smoking causes 13 per cent of all cancers and contributes to many preventable illnesses including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, eye diseases, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis,” said Chief Medical Officer Prof Breda Smyth.

“It’s also responsible for five per cent of hospital inpatient admissions, while the financial loss caused by smoking is estimated at €10.6 billion annually.

“Our smoking rates are still unacceptably high, so I am delighted that we are progressing a strong population protection measure that will help bring us closer to the goal of a tobacco-free Ireland.”

The Government has set a target of reducing Ireland’s adult smoking rate to less than five per cent of the population. Legal advice received by Government has suggested that Ireland cannot pursue a ‘smokefree generation’ policy as has been suggested in other jurisdictions due to the EU’s Single Market rules and Tobacco Products Directive.

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