Ban on the sale of tobacco to people aged under 21 encouraged on World No Tobacco Day

By Leanne Dempsey Policy News   |   31st May 2023

On World No Tobacco Day (May 31), the Tobacco 21 Alliance says the best way to stop the rise of smoking and vaping rates among young people was an increase in the legal age of sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

The Alliance, of which the Irish Heart Foundation is a member along with the Royal College of Physicans Ireland, youth organisation Foroige, the Irish Cancer Prevention Network and other public health organisations, NGO’s and youth groups – said such a move had overwhelming public support.

Tobacco 21 is only the first step of many as part of a New Zealand-style ‘tobacco endgame’ strategy with other measures needed such as reducing the number of retail premises selling tobacco products and decreasing the nicotine content in cigarettes.

In New Zealand, legislation to create a smoke-free generation was passed last year and it is now illegal in that country to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after Jan 1, 2009.

“The evidence strongly suggests that raising the age of sale of all forms of tobacco and e-cigarettes will turn the tide back in the right direction, disrupting a high rate of smokers moving from casual use to addiction between the ages of 18 and 20.”

Dr Emmet O’Brien, Tobacco 21 Alliance spokesperson and Chair of ASH Ireland

Dr O’Brien said Ireland had led the way with its workplace smoking ban in 2004 but has since become complacent, with recent figures showing an increase in the number of teenagers who have taken up the habit.

The teen smoking rate in Ireland in 1995, he said, was 41%.

Twenty years later, only 13.1% teenagers in the country admitted to lightning up.

But by 2019, the 14.1% of teens were smoking.

Youth vaping rates, he added, were also on the rise with over 37% of teenagers admitting to trying e-cigarettes.

“The younger people are when they first light up, the harder it will be to stop smoking as an adult.”

Dr Emmet O'Brien

“So, on this World No Tobacco Day, we believe it is timely that Ireland makes history by becoming the first country in the EU to implement Tobacco 21, and ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21.

Dr O’Brien added that Tobacco 21 legislation introduced in various US states, before it became federal law in 2019, had reduced smoking in the under-21 age group by 33.9%.

“The US Institute of Medicine says 223,000 lives will be saved among those born between 2000-2019,” he said.

“Tobacco 21 in the US has also reduced smoking rates in the 15-17 age group.

‘’Not only is it effective in reducing youth smoking, but it is also strongly supported by the Irish public.

“Tobacco 21 has overwhelming public backing, as demonstrated in an Ipsos MRBI poll for the Irish Heart Foundation showing it is supported by 73% of Irish adults and 70% in the 18-24 age bracket.

“Meanwhile, 71% supported Tobacco 21 in research for the HSE, including 73% of 15-17-year-olds and 66% of 18-20-year-olds.’’

The members of the Tobacco 21 Alliance are the Irish Heart Foundation and its ASH Council, Foroige, the Asthma Society of Ireland , COPD Support Ireland, the Irish Cancer Prevention Network (Irish Cancer Society, Marie Keating Foundation, National Cancer Control Programme, National Cancer Screening Service, Breakthrough Cancer Research), the HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme, the Royal College of Physicians Ireland, the Irish Thoracic Society, the Environmental Health Association of Ireland, association of Public Health Medicine Registrars of Ireland, the 221+ Patient Group, and the Limerick, Fingal, Kildare, Wicklow, Roscommon, Donegal, and Kerry Comhairle na nÓg Comhairlí.

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