The Government has said that it is considering implementing a ban on the sales of packets of fewer than 20 cigarettes.

The Minister of State, Sean Power, said he would shortly begin consulting with retailers and the tobacco industry on the ban.

He said the move, which is a provision of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts, would put cigarettes out of the reach of young people, one fifth of whom are smoking.    

The announcement came as the Office of Tobacco Control published its annual report for 2005.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mr Power welcomed the continuing high compliance levels and strong public support for the ban on smoking in the workplace.

He noted that Scotland would be introducing a 'smoke free at work' measure this weekend and he wished every success to this initiative.

The OTC report shows that the office brought only 38 prosecutions last year for breaches of smoking regulations, although more than 1,700 premises were found to be in breach of the smoking ban.

The report also shows that pubs had the highest level of non-compliance.

Of the 35,000 inspections carried out on hotel, pubs and other premises last year, 95% were complying with the smoking ban.

However, more than 1,700 premises were non compliant, with pubs representing more than 1,200 of these cases.

The Chairperson of the OTC, Dr Michael Boland, said that following a process of consultation and warnings, the vast majority of these premises complied with the regulations and no further action was taken.