The Office for Tobacco Control is calling for tougher regulations to deter young people from smoking.

In its annual report for 2004, the OTC says that while the number of smokers in Ireland is declining, the prevalence of smoking among young people remains a cause for concern.

The report also hails the success of the smoking ban which it says has already brought health benefits to the Irish public.

In 1998, one in three Irish people smoked, while in August 2005 this had dropped to one in four people.

The OTC says the decline is due to a range of anti-smoking measures, but with a compliance rate of 94% the smoking ban is obviously having a major impact.

In fact, according to this report, there does not appear to be any downside to the smoking ban.

Before it was introduced, publicans and those in the hospitality sector warned that it would have a negative impact on business, but the OTC says there is no evidence to support this.

However, the OTC is warning that there is no room for complacency as it has noticed a slight increase in the numbers smoking in recent months.

And while the number of women smoking appears to have plateaued, almost one fifth of 15 to 18-year-olds smoke even though it is illegal for tobacco products to be sold to them.

In a bid to tackle this continuing problem, the OTC wants a price hike in cigarettes in the budget, a complete ban on tobacco advertising, better compliance with the law on selling tobacco by retailers and continued support programmes for smokers trying to kick the habit.