ERS statement on the proposed Tobacco 21 policy in Ireland

ERS statement on the proposed Tobacco 21 policy in Ireland - article image

22 May, 2024 

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) is delighted with Ireland’s recent proposal to increase the age of sale of tobacco products in the country to 21.

This proposal is in line with the global Tobacco 21 campaign, which urges policymakers to increase the minimum age of sale of all tobacco products to 21.

Evidence shows that people between the ages of 18 and 21 are at high risk of becoming smokers. Raising the minimum purchasing age makes it harder for young people to access tobacco products both directly and indirectly (e.g. others buying on their behalf or social sources) and leads to a reduction in the uptake of smoking among young people.

Tobacco 21 policies have already been implemented in the USA, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Kuwait, with evidence showing that this has led to a significant decrease in sale and use of tobacco products, and a reduction in the uptake of smoking. Modelling suggests that increasing the legal age of sale of tobacco products to 21 years in the USA will ultimately result in 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer in people born between 2000 and 2019.

ERS has been instrumental in advocating for Tobacco 21 policies. Through its Tobacco Control Committee, ERS has released multiple statements, establishing a strong evidence base to persuade policymakers to adopt these policies. Through activities such as the ‘Endgame begins now’ event in January this year, ERS has brought together key stakeholders in Europe and beyond to drive conversation around tobacco cessation policy, and strategy to implement this as widely as possible.

Filippos Filippidis, Chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, highlighted:

“The earlier people start to smoke, the more likely they are to smoke for life, and to face all of the negative health outcomes that come along with that. Raising the age of sale to 21 has been shown to not only delay the age at which people start using tobacco, but – most importantly- to decrease the number of young people who become smokers altogether.

“A Tobacco 21 policy in Ireland would be a significant and positive step towards reducing the terrible burden of smoking in this country and would hopefully serve as a shining example to neighbouring countries across Europe.”

Should the proposed policy be passed into law, it would make Ireland the first EU country to implement a Tobacco 21 policy. This could be hugely important in setting a precedent across Europe, making it more likely for other countries in the region to do the same, and providing population level evidence that tobacco control policies can lead to wide improvements in health outcomes and reductions in healthcare spending. In 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in the workplace, including pubs and restaurants, a policy which has since been adopted widely around the world.

The proposed policy has not yet been passed into law but has strong support both in public polls and within government. ERS will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation, and to advocate for tobacco control policies in Europe and beyond.

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