Rise in smoking age and disposable vapes ban considered by Government

Ireland banned smoking in workplaces 20 years ago.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Tanaiste Micheal Martin
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Tanaiste Micheal Martin Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Tanaiste Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Health Minister wants to raise the minimum age for smoking to 21.

Stephen Donnelly said the Government is also looking at a range of legislative measures “to come down hard” on vaping.

He made the remarks at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the workplace smoking ban in Ireland, which prohibited smoking in indoor commercial spaces.

The process for legislating new restrictions, which involves a public consultation, is complicated by Ireland’s inclusion in the EU single market.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin at Government Buildings
Workplace smoking ban anniversary Tanaiste Micheal Martin at Government Buildings (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asked if he would consider banning younger people from smoking so that they will never legally be able to buy tobacco products, Mr Donnelly said: “What we’ve been looking at is can we, and should we, increase the minimum age from 18 to 21.

“It’s formed part of our public consultation. We’re going to be looking at that, and my own belief is we should.”

Mr Donnelly said he would personally recommend the increase in the smoking age and that legislation was being prepared in the event it was agreed at Government level.

“Really, it’s a measure aimed at people who are 15, 16, 17 years of age that – with a smoking age of 18 – they find it relatively easy to go to either buy the cigarettes themselves, or get a friend or an older sibling to get them.

“But if you move to 21, it makes it much more difficult.”

A public consultation will also looking at issues such as a ban on disposable vapes and extending prohibited smoking zones to outdoor seating areas.

On March 29 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in workplaces, including pubs and restaurants.

Since the introduction of the workplace smoking ban, the HSE says smoking rates are down from 27% in 2004 to 18% in 2023.

The health service said this means there are 800,000 fewer smokers in Ireland and that “countless” lives have been saved.

Seventy-four countries have since followed Ireland’s example and banned smoking indoors.

The measure was introduced Micheal Martin, who was the health minister at the time.

Now Tanaiste, Mr Martin said it had been one of the most important and memorable days of his career, but accused the tobacco industry of operating on a strategy of “getting young people addicted at a very young age”.

He said: “It meant we had an epidemic and huge impacts on heart disease, respiratory disease, COPD, lung cancer, stroke and a whole range of other conditions.”

He said there had been a “tremendous” reduction in cardiovascular disease over the last 20 years.

Mr Martin said “the next battleground is the vapes”, adding: “Without question the same playbook is in operation in respect to vapes as was in operation for tobacco.

“Essentially, it’s an addictive substance, get them young – get them addicted for life.”

He criticised the presentation of vaping products “as sweets” that are easily accessible to children.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly
Workplace smoking ban anniversary Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly (Brian Lawless/PA)

Last year, the Government banned the sale of vapes to under-18s and is examining further measures to address these challenges.

Mr Donnelly said the HSE enforcement team will now be using children aged between 15-17 to test if shops are adhering to the selling ban.

He said that further measures are being introduced this week to target the advertising of vapes in areas like cinemas and on public transport.

Additionally, the minister said that legislation is now being drafted to target marketing of vapes in shops, adding: “We’re looking at flavourings, we’re looking at packaging as well.”

Mr Donnelly said: “So there are a lot of different measures that we’re taking in terms of really coming down hard on vaping.”