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Plans to increase the legal smoking age to 21 have been approved - but vapes aren't included

Ireland aims to become the first country in the EU to increase the age to 21.


CABINET HAS APPROVED a proposal for legislation that will increase the age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21. 

Ireland aims to become the first country in the EU to increase the age to 21. Latvia has enacted a law to raise the minimum age of sale to 20 in 2025. 

The Bill will provide that the prohibition on tobacco sales will not apply to those who are currently between the ages of 18 and 20. 

The move is aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke in Ireland.

According to the HSE, the number of smokers in Ireland has reduced from 27% in 2004 to 18% in 2023. The level of smokers in the country has remained unchanged since 2021, according to Healthy Ireland.

The Department of Health said today that preliminary legal advice suggests Ireland cannot pursue a ‘smoke-free generation’ policy as has been suggested in other jurisdictions due to the EU’s Single Market rules and Tobacco Products Directive. 

The Department said that raising the minimum purchasing age will make it harder for young people to access tobacco products through direct and proxy buys as well as social sources.

It said it is likely to lead to a reduction in the numbers taking up smoking. 

“This is a tough new measure, but the health impacts of tobacco smoking are immense and require tough responses,” Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said today. 

“I am determined to progress legislation that will protect children and young people from this lethal product and ultimately save lives,” Donnelly said. 

The proposed legislation will not impact the minimum legal age of sale of nicotine inhaling products or vapes. Since December, the sale of vapes to under 18s has been banned.

When asked by The Journal today why the purchase age for vapes is not being increasing alongside tobacco, Minister Donnelly said it is because the clinical advice is not yet available.

He did however, stress that there is “ongoing emerging evidence” on the harms of vaping.

“We did look at that but the clinical advice is not in at this point in terms of where it is with cigarettes. We got very clear clinical advice in terms of mandating a minimum age of 18 for the sale of vapes, based on cognitive development and impairing cognitive development,” Donnelly said.

“But it is something I think should be kept under review,” he added.

The Minister also confirmed today that retail staff will not need to be 21 years of age to sell tobacco products.

This comes after retail associations claimed that the Department of Health’s proposal to raise the legal age of sale of tobacco products will cause problems for staff members in shops and supermarkets. 

Vincent Jennings, the CEO of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA), which has 1,500 members across the country, told The Journal that staff members could have difficulty telling a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old that they can purchase alcohol and lottery tickets, but not cigarettes.


Elsewhere, Minister Donnelly confirmed today that the Government has no plans to raise the purchase age of alcohol beyond 18. 

He said this is because there is no evidence that it would be an effective way to reduce alcohol consumption. 

He added that the Government has a strategy in place that aims to make Ireland tobacco-free, but said no such strategy exists for alcohol. 

With reporting by Jane Matthews and Jane Moore 

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