Smoking rate plummets as new tobacco laws on way
Fewer than one in five of the population over the age of 15 is now a smoker, with 70,000 quitting last year.
Smoking prevalence now stands at 19.5pc, compared to 21.5pc in 2013 and 28pc in 2003.
The drop of 2pc is the largest fall recorded since 2009 and comes in advance of the Government's controversial legislation to introduce plain packaging of all tobacco products.
The proposed legislation -which will not become fully effective until May 2017 - is facing legal threats from tobacco giants.
JTI Ireland which owns Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut brands, has written to Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Children's Minister James Reilly warning that it will proceed with legal action if the Government fails to back down on the plans by Friday.
However, Dr Reilly, who passed all sections of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill at Oireachtas Committee for Health and Children yesterday, said he is going to proceed with the proposed law.
Tobacco related diseases are killing 5,200 people every year and 78pc of smokers start under the age of 18.
Dr Reilly told the committee that evidence from Australia, where plain packaging is in place, shows it is working and that it is a "proportionate and worthwhile measure".
The threat of legal challenges should not be an obstacle to public health policies, he added.
The committee gave the go-ahead to all provisions of the proposed law including:
* Allowing tobacco companies to phase out existing packaging up to May 2016. Stock can continue to be sold up to May 2017
* A amendment to exempt cigars from plain packaging was rejected. E-cigarettes are not included in this law.