Ireland should increase age for buying tobacco to 21

By June Shannon Policy News   |   15th Nov 2021

Conference to hear from experts on the case for raising the legal age to purchase all tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Ireland should increase the legal age for purchasing tobacco and tobacco products including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21 to protect the health of young people, a conference on youth smoking will hear this week.

The Irish Heart Foundation is hosting an online half-day conference on Tuesday the 16th of November where Irish and International tobacco control experts will discuss the health benefits and rationale of such a move.

The conference will feature a number of expert speakers including, Rob Cane MD and Amanda Swenson Turner from The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation – Tobacco 21 in the US, who will discuss their work in the US where the legal age to purchase tobacco products including e-cigarettes was raised  from 18 to 21 by federal law in 2019.

Dr Matthew Sadlier, Consultant Adult Psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, will discuss the neurobiological effects of smoking on youth mental health, Dr Paul Kavanagh, Consultant, Public Health Medicine on the State of Tobacco Control in Ireland – Time to Move from ‘Business as Usual’ to ‘Endgame; and Dr Emmet O’Brien, Consultant Respiratory Physician, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on the Impact of Youth Tobacco Use on Lung Function and Development.

“We are really focused on initiation because this is the hardest, most addictive drug to quit."

Amanda Swenson Turner, Executive Director , Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation – Tobacco 21

Since 2019 federal law in the US states that you must be 21 to purchase tobacco and tobacco products including e-cigarettes, and early research has suggested that this move is already making a difference.

Amanda Swenson Turner, Executive Director of Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation – Tobacco 21 in the US, explained that increasing the age from 18 to 21 removed the possibility of younger children being socially influenced by 18-year olds to smoke, as 15-year olds are less likely to be in the same social circle as 21-year olds.

“18-year olds go to school with 15-year olds, so that social circle allows access to younger kids. So, if you remove that social circle, remove that 18-year old having the ability to purchase cigarettes, then the younger kids have less access to getting cigarettes or trying cigarettes, or trying tobacco products.”

“We are really focused on initiation because this is the hardest, most addictive drug to quit. So, if we can remove that access to use, you have a better chance of them never picking it up.”

Amanda said she would strongly encourage Ireland to increase the legal age limit for purchasing cigarettes and tobacco products from 18 to 21. “ If you want to protect kids from a lifelong addiction to nicotine, it’s imperative to raise the age to 21. It’s about protecting youth and it’s protecting public health over profits of the tobacco industry.”

" We would be the first country in the EU to implement tobacco 21 and it would send out a strong signal that Ireland is committed to putting public health first and protecting our youth”.

Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer, The Irish Heart Foundation

Rob Crane, MD, President of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation – Tobacco 21 said, “Because of slickly marketed, highly flavored nicotine e-cigarette products, we face what the U.S. Surgeon General calls an “epidemic” of teen vaping and addiction. Early nicotine use through e-cigarettes quadruples the chance of progression to cigarette smoking and puts kids at risk of increased anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Tobacco 21 works when it’s rigorously enforced and as stated by the World Health Organization, governments must enact policies to stop non-smokers from starting.”

Commenting Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “If we want to reach the Tobacco Free Ireland goal of having a smoking prevalence rate of less than 5 per cent, it is time for this government to be ambitious and increase the legal age of sale of all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21. The health benefits and effectiveness of Tobacco 21 in reducing youth smoking from other jurisdictions that has increased the legal age of sale is overwhelming. We would be the first country in the EU to implement tobacco 21 and it would send out a strong signal that Ireland is committed to putting public health first and protecting our youth”.

For more information or to register for the half day online event ‘Tobacco 21’ please see here.

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