Ireland's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has introduced new legislation that proposes raising the legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

Donnelly will seek Cabinet approval for the legislation during the week in a bid to significantly reduce smoking prevalence and addiction. 

The bill will be designed so that it does not affect people aged between 18 and 21 who are currently able to buy cigarettes and tobacco products.

Donnelly first announced his intention to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products in March, stating that the legislation is specifically aimed at people aged between 15 and 17 years of age. 

"Really it's a measure aimed at people who are 15, 16, 17 years of age that with a smoking age at 18, they find it relatively easy to buy cigarettes...but that if you move to 21 it makes it much more difficult," Donnelly said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin welcomed the "significant" legislation and said there is an opportunity to build on the progress made over the past 20 years in reducing the prevalence of smoking in Ireland. 

"There is an opportunity there to press home the possibilities of really eliminating smoking among younger generations into the future," Martin said on Monday. 

Martin also addressed the need to tackle the use of vapes among young people, stating that the Irish Government has to "intervene". 

"We have to act. It seems to me the same playbook is at play that the tobacco industry did in the 1950s and 1960s, getting young people addicted to cigarettes and creating generations of disease," Martin told reporters in Cork. 

"Potentially the same playbook here with young people being incentivized by flavorings, positioning, and presentation of the product and potentially long term hard, we have to intervene at this stage." 

A report produced by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group (RCPI) found that experimentation with smoking is highest among teens aged between 15 and 17. The "Tobacco 21" report found that raising the legal age for the sale of tobacco products in Ireland could cut smoking rates among teenagers by 25% and greatly reduce the number of teenagers and young adults addicted to tobacco. 

The report additionally stated that around 4,500 people die in Ireland every year from the effects of smoking, while thousands more suffer from smoke-related diseases such as cancer and COPD. The report stated that smoking is the leading cause of early death in Ireland.

Chris Macey, Director of Advocacy and Patient Support with the Irish Heart Foundation, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the legislation was one of the most important healthcare measures introduced in Ireland in recent years. 

"We would regard this as one of the most important public health measures for years and really a crucial step to protect the next generation from the deadly effects of smoking," Macey said. 

"As a nation and as a Government, we sort of lost our way in tobacco control for many years and this really changes the dial or will change the dial back in the right direction." 

The Government is also set to introduce a ban on the sale of tobacco and vape products from vending machines, while further legislation to ban disposable vapes and address issues around vape flavoring and packaging is also under consideration.