Could Ireland’s aim to raise the legal age for tobacco use affect vaping products?

Ireland will look to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.

The change will specifically not affect vaping products. It will also not affect nicotine pouches, which are currently only regulated as consumer products. Heated tobacco products would move to 21, as they are governed by tobacco product regulations in the country.

It could be said this still gives some sort of advantage to tobacco alternatives. After the “wash-through” period, allowing anyone who is already between the ages of 18 and 21 to continue to legally purchase tobacco products, the change could mean that alternative nicotine products would be the main legal avenue for those who start experimenting with cigarettes, despite their black-market status. These products would also provide a safer route for the exploration of nicotine for anyone who may have wanted to try smoking products had they been available.

But this is a precarious argument and does more to highlight the contentious nature of these products than serve as some sort of security blanket to assuage the worries of a nicotine-prohibitionist public. It merely reminds people that pouches are still unregulated in Ireland and many other jurisdictions, while vaping continues to be at the centre of a debate over youth use – which is often extended into young adult use to include concern over rates rising among those legally able to use vaping products.


Is adulthood just a number?


In fact, it was only recently that Ireland changed the law to prohibit the sale of vaping products to under-18s, making it somewhat puzzling as to why the Irish government has chosen not to move the minimum age for purchase to 21 like it has done for tobacco products.

For that matter, why are 18 and 21 the arbitrary ages at which we assign some token of adulthood and decision-making? Recent evidence suggests that the brain is still developing (and can still be negatively affected by nicotine, to trust some of the more risk-averse papers) as late as 25.

This shows that debate over whether we hit adulthood at 18 or at 21 is linked more to historical context around property ownership, the right to vote and the possibility of having to fight in a war than it is to health concerns.

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    In that regard, a minimum age of 25 or a complete ban on the sale of tobacco products would appear to the best option for the protection of public health.


    Wider bans wanted


    A spokesperson for Forest, the UK smokers’ rights group funded by the tobacco industry, was apparently the only person Irish media could find willing to come out and try to oppose the proposal. One of the myriad arguments put forth by Forest was that this 21+ proposal was the first step towards completely banning the adult choice to use tobacco products. And that this was a curtailment of personal liberties.

    Some public health experts in Ireland do appear to be advocating for a full ban as a future goal, perhaps through a similar method as the generational prohibition being considered in the UK.

    This could be why Ireland left vaping out of the proposal. It would set vaping up as separately regulated and therefore something that could be left as a legal product if further generational bans were introduced – as is the case in the UK proposal.

    As for pouches, their time of reckoning is fast approaching. And when they are regulated, whether they are treated more akin to other tobacco products or to vaping will be the determining factor in their own minimum age of purchase.

    – Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Gregory Dalleau

    Freddie Dawson

    Senior news editor
    Freddie studied at King’s College, London and City University and worked for publications including The Times, The Malay Mail, PathfinderBuzz and Solar Summary before joining the ECigIntelligence team. He has extensive experience in covering fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), manufacturing and technological innovation.