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Stock image of a cigarette being smoked. Alamy Stock Photo
Clamp down on smoking

Cabinet to consider changing legal age of sale for tobacco in Ireland from 18 to 21

The Bill will aim to reduce the number of young people becoming smokers.

LAST UPDATE | 13 May

TAOISEACH SIMON HARRIS has said the Government wants to “make progress” on further reducing smoking rates, as the health minister will today ask Cabinet to back landmark legislation raising the minimum legal age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

The move is aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke as, though numbers here have fallen, the rate has plateaued and 18% of Irish adults smoke.  

Speaking this morning to Pat Kenny on Newstalk, Harris said that progress in reducing the number of smokers in the country had stalled in recent years.

“I think the Minister for Health is quite right now to look at all of the various options that are available to him,” he said.

The Bill will be designed so as not to affect people between the ages of 18 and 21 who are currently entitled to be sold tobacco products. The legislation won’t apply to this cohort for a “wash through” period, but it’s not yet clear how long this will be.

“We’re not talking about making something illegal that is legal today,” Harris said.

“So in other words, if you’re 18, 19, 20, and you’re smoking today, we wish you weren’t from a public health point of view, but we’re not intending to make that illegal.

We’re talking about people when they reach the age of 18. Some people are not yet 18… and this is this is something that’s been used in quite a number of countries. And I think we should learn from best international practice.

The age category is considered a high-risk one for people taking up smoking.

Donnelly has already taken aim at vaping, and introduced legislation that banned the sale of vapes to under-18s.

A ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products from vending machines is to be enacted shortly, and a licensing regime will mean that those selling the products have to pay an annual fee. 

The Health Minister has promised further curbs on the sale of vaping and tobacco products, and a second piece of legislation is being drafted. 

A rise in the minimum legal age of sale for tobacco products has already happened in parts of the US and Canada. 

Donnelly’s proposals, however, don’t go as far as the legislation that British PM Rishi Sunak is planning to implement, which will see the legal age for cigarette sales increased by one year, each year, meaning that people born in or after 2009 will never be able to legally buy cigarettes.

Smoking and second-hand smoking still causes almost 6000 deaths in Ireland annually.

Smoking related deaths are mainly due to cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) and heart disease. Cigarettes contain over 4000 toxic chemicals, many of which are proven to cause cancer. 

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

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