Oireachtas urged to increase legal age for tobacco to 21

By June Shannon Policy News   |   14th Nov 2022

Irish Heart Foundation met members of the Oireachtas last week to call for cross party support to increase the legal age for the sale of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21.

The Irish Heart Foundation and the ASH Ireland Council of the Irish Heart Foundation, in partnership with the Tobacco 21 Alliance held a special event in the Oireachtas last week on Tobacco 21: The case for raising the legal age for the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes in Ireland.

The Tobacco 21 Alliance of which the Irish Heart Foundation is a founding member, has called for the legal age for the sale of all forms of tobacco and e-cigarettes in Ireland to be raised from 18 to 21 as evidence shows it reduces youth smoking and deters people from starting to smoke in the first place.

The hugely successful T21 event which took place on Wednesday last (November 09th) was very well attended and included a number of expert speakers including Chris Macey, Director of Advocacy, Irish Heart Foundation, Norma Cronin, Chairperson, ASH Ireland, Council of the Irish Heart Foundation, Dr Emmet O’Brien, Consultant Respiratory Physician, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, and  Aoife Ní Riain, youth speaker from the Limerick Comhairle na nÓg alumni.

Speaking at the event Norma Cronin, Chairperson, ASH Ireland Council of the Irish Heart Foundation said, “We must act now to move towards a tobacco-free generation and protect young people from a product that would be illegal if invented today.”

“ We must act now to move towards a tobacco-free generation and protect young people from a product that would be illegal if invented today.”

Norma Cronin, Chairperson , ASH Ireland Council of the Irish Heart Foundation

Outlining the harm caused by tobacco to young people in particular Dr Emmet O Brien, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin explained to Oireachtas members that lung function continues to increase into early adulthood until a plateau is reached in the mid-20s.

He added that apart from the short-term risks of reduced fertility, chronic coughing and risk of clots, tobacco use in young people also put them at increased long-term risk for heart disease, chronic lung conditions such as COPD as well as lung and other cancers.

Addressing the T21 Oireachtas event Aoife Ní Riain, Member Limerick Comhairle na nÓg and student at the University of Limerick, highlighted the importance of young people’s voices being central to decision making in this important policy area.

The Government’s Tobacco Free Ireland 2025 strategy aims to reduce the prevalence of smoking to 5 per cent or less by 2025. However, the decline in smoking rates among the general population and teenagers has stalled and reversed in the past few years.

Alarmingly, for the first time in 25 years smoking among 15–16-year-olds – a key age period for smoking initiation – has increased. The rate was 41 per cent in 1995, it fell to 13.1 per cent in 2015 and has now increased in the last few years to 14.4 per cent.

The USA introduced Tobacco 21 (T21) as federal law in 2019. States that affected T21 measures before it became federal, saw smoking among 18-20-year-olds reduce by up to  33.9 per cent.

In Ireland, T21 has overwhelming public backing as demonstrated in a recent Ipsos poll for the Irish Heart Foundation which showed that the move was supported by 73 per cent of Irish adults and 70 per cent of young people aged 18-24. Furthermore, research by the HSE  found  that 71 per cent of people aged 15 and over supported Tobacco 21, including 73 per cent of 15-17-year-olds and 66 per cent of 18-20-year-olds.

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