Doctors call for minimum age for buying tobacco to be 21

Government plan to cut smoking rate to 5% will not work with current policies, physicians warn

Doctors have called for the minimum legal age for buying tobacco to be increased to 21.

The Government aims to reduce smoking rates to 5 per cent by 2025 but the report from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland says this will not be achieved with the policies currently in place.

Amending legislation to raise the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 offers a “proven approach” to significantly reducing the numbers of teenagers and young adults becoming addicted, according to the report.

“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 college’s policy group on tobacco.

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‘Tobacco endgame’

“Tobacco 21 is a simple and effective step on the road to tobacco endgame. It requires only simple amendments to existing legislation and has strong public support.”

Prof Cox added that increasing the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco had strong public backing.

“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.”

Prof Cox, a paediatric respiratory consultant, said teenagers report finding it is easy to get cigarettes directly in shops or through friends.

“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.”

International modelling suggests that a “Tobacco 21″ policy can reduce smoking rates by up to 25 per cent among 15 to 17 year olds and by 15 per cent among 18 to 20 year olds, he said.

Nearly 4,500 people die in Ireland each year from the effects of smoking. Thousands more suffer from smoking-related diseases, including heart and lung disease and cancers.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times