The sale of tobacco from vending machines has been prohibited across Northern Ireland in a bid to prevent under-age sales.

According to government figures just over 8% of 11 to 16 year olds in Northern Ireland smoke, and 14% of these claim that vending machines are their usual source of tobacco.

“Reducing smoking prevalence is one of the biggest challenges we face in public health,” said health minister Edwin Poots. “Over 300,000 adults in Northern Ireland still smoke and it causes around 2,300 deaths each year.

“Cigarette vending machines are often unsupervised and present an easy option for children wishing to purchase cigarettes. By banning them we are removing that option and hopefully preventing young people from taking up this life-limiting habit,” he added.

Northern Ireland follows England and Wales which introduced similar legislation in October 2011 and February 2012 respectively.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1,800 tobacco vending machines in Northern Ireland.