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Call to cut province smoking rates

The legal age for buying cigarettes in Northern Ireland should be raised and sellers should be forced to apply for licenses in an effort to cut cancer deaths, a charity claims.

The Ulster Cancer Foundation said the province has a higher rate of tobacco use than North America or Australia, and one in four people are now addicted to smoking.

Spokesman Gerry McElwee said: "If tomorrow in Northern Ireland, we reduced our smoking rates to match those in USA and Australia we could save up to 800 lives a year.

"The Northern Ireland Executive needs to use the current momentum to create a turning-point in combating the tobacco epidemic in Northern Ireland.

"The Northern Ireland public deserves a strategy that will position us as the first European country to be tobacco-free."

Around 2,800 people die every year from smoking in Northern Ireland, and it has been banned in public places since last spring.

Health minister Michael McGimpsey is currently consulting on whether to raise the age for buying tobacco from 16 to 18 in a similar move to one already brought in in England.

Dr Anna Gavin, director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, added: "If the government invests in a tobacco control strategy with healthy public policies in place to reduce and prevent smoking-related illnesses, then they will enjoy vast savings in the long-term."

Ulster Cancer Foundation

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