A new poll shows 71% of people want the legal age to purchase tobacco in Ireland to increase to 21.
Ipsos MRBI conducted the poll on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation and published the results on Tuesday, November 16th, 2021.
It surveyed 1,029 people aged over 15 via telephone.
While the vast majority favoured the change, 26% disagreed, 1% were undecided, and 71% of those aged 18 to 24 backed the proposal.
Recent research has revealed that smoking among young people in Ireland has increased for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Mr Chris Macey, head of advocacy, The Irish Heart Foundation, said the results send an “overwhelming” message to the government.
“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.”
He said 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 COPD.
“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 daily.”
“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. It said the 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%; this fell to 13.1% by 2015, but by 2019, it had crept back up to 14.4%.
“The evidence strongly suggests that raising the age of sale will turn the tide back in the right direction.”
He said it will “disrupt” a high rate of smokers moving from casual use to addiction between 18 and 20.
He pointed to the US, where 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%.
“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.
Macey said introducing it here would not amount to a breach of people’s rights.
He argued that the notion that young people automatically acquire all rights possessed by adults at 18 is “not true”.
For example, the law prohibits under 21s from activities such as:
- Adopting children;
- Driving large passenger vehicles;
- Supervising learner drivers;
- Standing in national and European elections.
Dr Emmet O’Brien, consultant respiratory physician, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, said youth smoking both accelerates lung function decline and prevents the attainment of maximum lung size.
Therefore, it increases the risk for chronic respiratory disease.
He believes 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;
- Mitigate against nicotine addiction at this “critical” stage.