RCPI calls for legal age for tobacco sales to be increased to 21

By June Shannon Policy News   |   12th Sep 2022

New report echoes Irish Heart Foundation’s call for minimum age to buy tobacco products be increased to 21

A new report from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) has called for the minimum age of sale of tobacco products to be increased from 18 to 21,  a move that the Irish Heart Foundation has also campaigned for.

Launched today (Monday 12 September 2022) the Tobacco 21 report from the RCPI Policy Group on Tobacco states that amending legislation to raise the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco products in Ireland offers a proven approach to significantly reduce the numbers of teenagers and young adults becoming addicted to tobacco.

Almost 4,500 people die in Ireland each year from the effects of smoking – the single biggest contributor to early death. Thousands more suffer from smoking-related diseases, including heart disease, stroke and cancers.

“After decades of progress, tobacco control is stagnating and we are actually seeing an uptick in use among teenage boys,” said Prof Des Cox, Chair of the RCPI Policy Group on Tobacco.

“We are not going to achieve the nationwide target of reducing smoking to 5 per cent by 2025 with the policies currently in place. Tobacco 21 is a simple and effective step on the road to tobacco endgame. It requires only simple amendments to existing legislation and already has strong public support.

“Most smokers start to smoke in their teenage years, but the age at which they are starting is rising over time. The earlier a young person starts smoking the more likely they are to become addicted and the harder it can be to quit. Tobacco 21 will help to delay the initiation of tobacco use and, in turn, reduce the number of people who smoke.

“On top of associations between early first use and lifetime smoking, most teenagers report finding it easy to get cigarettes directly at the shop or through friends,” said Professor Cox, who is a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine.

“Experimentation with smoking is highest between 15 and 17, but this cohort are less likely to have access to peer networks over 21 who could purchase for them. Tobacco 21 provides this important barrier and is vital to increasing the age of smoking initiation and the lifelong negative health impacts that come with it,” he added.

" The RCPI paper is fully in line with our view that such a law is proportionate because of the harm caused by smoking and will be effective based on its success in other countries."

Chris Macey, Director of Advocacy , The Irish Heart Foundation

In November last year an Ipsos MRBI poll carried out on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation revealed that 73 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco from the current 18 years to 21.

Commenting Chris Macey Director of Advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “The Irish Heart Foundation and ASH Council have established a wide-ranging coalition of health and youth organisations to campaign for legislation to increase the legal age of sale of tobacco products to 21 which we believe to be the next logical step on the road to a Tobacco Free Ireland. The RCPI paper is fully in line with our view that such a law is proportionate because of the harm caused by smoking and will be effective based on its success in other countries. Our research found that the vast majority of Irish people support the move – including over two thirds of 15-24 year olds. Following the nationwide introduction  of Tobacco 21 legislation in the US, its Institute of Medicine said it would save the lives of 223,000 young people born between 2000-2019 alone. A similar impact in Ireland would result in over 3,500 lives being saved. On the basis of huge lifesaving impact and huge public support, this measure should be implemented by the Department of Health without delay.”

International modelling suggests that Tobacco 21 policies can reduce smoking rates by up to 25 per cent among 15-17-year-olds and by up to 15 per cent among 18-20-year-olds.

The RCPI report examines the implementation, public awareness and enforcement measures required to effectively roll out Tobacco 21.

“Ireland has led in this space before. Innovative policies such as smoke-free workplaces in 2004 and standardised packaging in 2018 have been effective but we need more ambitious measures to save lives. This is an opportunity for Ireland to once again be a European and global leader in tobacco control,” Prof Cox said.

Tobacco products kill one in every two people. Tobacco 21 won’t change this risk for smokers, but it can reduce the numbers of people becoming tobacco dependent and exposed to tobacco harms in the long term.

Smoking is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke.  For help and support to quit smoking visit www.QUIT.ie.

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