Majority favour raising legal age for tobacco to 21

By June Shannon Policy News   |   16th Nov 2021

New poll shows 71 per cent of people want the legal age to purchase tobacco in Ireland to be increased to 21.

Almost three quarters of people in Ireland want the legal age for the sale of tobacco to be raised from 18 to 21, new research from the Irish Heart Foundation shows.

According to an Ipsos MRBI poll on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation 73 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco from the current 18 years to 21.

A total of 1,029 people aged over 15 were surveyed in the telephone poll and the while the vast majority were in favour of the change, 26 per cent disagreed, 1 per cent were undecided and 71 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 backed the proposal.

The results from the Ipsos MRBI poll are being published today (Tuesday 16 November 2021) to coincide with a major online conference ‘Tobacco 21: The case for raising the legal age for the sale of tobacco in Ireland’. Organised by the Irish Heart Foundation #Tobacco 21 will be addressed by a number of international and Irish experts.

Recent research has revealed that smoking among young people in Ireland has increased for the first time in a quarter of a century.

“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,"

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, The Irish Heart Foundation

The Irish Heart Foundation said the poll findings send an , overwhelming message to Government that the public wants decisive action to save a new generation from the “health catastrophe” of smoking which still claims almost 6,000 lives here every year.

“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 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” said Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy at the Irish Heart Foundation.

“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,” he said.

The Irish Heart Foundation also wants the ban extended to e-cigarettes due to evidence of their gateway effect on smoking and said that data showing an increase in teenage smoking in Ireland strengthens the case for a tobacco ban for under-21s.

In 1995, the teen smoking rate in Ireland was 41 per cent, this fell dramatically to 13.1 per cent by 2015 but by 2019, it had crept back up to 14.4 per cent.

“The evidence strongly suggests that raising the age of sale will turn the tide back in the right direction,"

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, The Irish Heart Foundation

“The evidence strongly suggests that raising the age of sale 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,” said Mr Macey.

“In the US, Tobacco 21 laws introduced in various States before it became federal law in 2019, reduced smoking in that age group by up to 33.9 per cent.  The US Institute of Medicine says 223,000 lives will be saved among those born between 2000-2019. It has also reduced smoking rates in the 15-17 age group.

“In addition, we could be confident similar laws will work in Ireland due to the hugely positive impact of increasing the age of sale here in 2002 from 16-18,” he added.

Mr Macey said that introducing it here would not amount to a breach of people’s rights, arguing that the notion that young people automatically acquire all rights possessed by adults at 18 is not true.

For example, under 21s are already prohibited by law from activities such as adopting children, driving large passenger vehicles, supervising learner drivers, and standing in national and European elections.

“Youth smoking both accelerates lung function decline and prevents the attainment of maximum lung size,"

Dr Emmet O'Brien, Consultant Respiratory Physician , Beaumont Hospital, Dublin

Mr Macey will present the findings of the Ipsos MRBI research today at the online conference ‘Tobacco 21: The case for raising the legal age for the sale of tobacco in Ireland’.

One of the speakers due to address the conference, Dr Emmet O’Brien, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said lung function continues to grow through late adolescence and into the mid-twenties.

“Youth smoking both accelerates lung function decline and prevents the attainment of maximum lung size, thereby increasing the risk for chronic respiratory disease. Raising the minimum age of tobacco purchase to 21 will be an important milestone to protect the developing lung from the harmful effects of tobacco exposure, reduce the premature loss of lung function in youth smokers, and mitigate against nicotine addiction at this critical stage.”

For more information on the #Tobacco21 conference please see here.

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