Raise the legal age of sale of tobacco to 21

It would be a landmark public health measure

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott

Sir, – The Tobacco 21 Alliance is an alliance of health and youth organisations that has come together to seek cross-party support to reduce smoking rates and protect the long-term health of young people in Ireland through measures to raise the legal age of sale of tobacco from 18 to 21.

We believe a clear opportunity now exists to take this decisive action following its great success in the US, steps taken by Rishi Sunak to phase out smoking in the UK, the Irish Government’s public consultation on further regulation of tobacco and nicotine inhaling products and the support expressed by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly for the measure.

Raising the legal age to 21 would protect teenagers and adolescents from being sold or provided tobacco products, help them avoid ever initiating, and save them from the devastating health consequences of a lifetime of smoking. It would be a landmark public health measure.

Tobacco 21 regulation is justified on three key grounds. Firstly, it’s proportionate because of the unique harm smoking causes and because many young people move from casual use to addiction between the ages of 18 and 20.

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It is still responsible for 4,500 deaths a year here or almost 100 deaths per week in Ireland, and places an enormous burden of chronic disease on our health system while maximising tobacco industry profits.

Secondly, it is effective in reducing youth smoking, as shown in the US, where it cut smoking rates in the 18-20 age group by up to 33 per cent after being introduced in 2019. When the legal age of sale was raised from 16 to 18 in 2002, the smoking rate in that age group fell by 30 per cent.

Finally, the measure is backed by the vast majority of the public, including young people. According to a HSE survey, 71 per cent of the public support increasing the legal age from 18 to 21, with 72 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds and 66 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds backing it also.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the historic workplace smoking ban, a world-first that has saved thousands of lives from the scourge of tobacco and gained huge popular support, it is timely that Ireland recaptures that same ambition by becoming the first country in the EU to introduce Tobacco 21. – Yours, etc,

CHRIS MACEY,

Director of Advocacy,

Irish Heart Foundation;

Prof DES COX,

Chair of the Policy Group on Tobacco at the

Royal College of Physicians of Ireland;

Dr PAUL KAVANAGH,

Consultant in Public Health

Medicine HSE Tobacco-Free Ireland Programme;

Prof EMMET O’BRIEN,

Chairperson,

ASH Ireland,

Council of the Irish

Heart Foundation;

EILIS NÍ CHAITHNÍA,

Chief Executive Officer,

Asthma Society of Ireland;

SEÁN CAMPBELL,

CEO Foróige;

Dr CAROLINE MASON MOHAN,

Director of Public Health,

National Screening Service;

LIZ YEATES,

CEO,

Marie Keating Foundation;

ORLA DOLAN,

Chief Executive Officer,

Breakthrough Cancer Research;

Dr CAITRÍONA McCARTHY,

Consultant in Public Health Medicine,

National Cancer Control Programme;

MARK MURPHY,

Advocacy Manager,

Environmental Health and Tobacco,

Irish Heart Foundation,

Dublin 6.

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