A new Eurobarometer on attitudes towards tobacco shows that Ireland has the lowest average age of starting smoking at 16.4 years, compared to an EU average of 17.6 years.
The figure is the starting age for smoking averaged out over all smokers and ex-smokers.
Smoking is also a little more common in Ireland than in the EU as a whole - 29% compared to an EU average of 28% - and well ahead of Sweden (at the bottom of the scale) where it is only 13%.
The study published on the eve of World No Tobacco Day also shows that on average, 60% of EU citizens support measures to make tobacco less visible and attractive, such as keeping tobacco products out of sight in shops or curbing the use of attractive flavours and colours.
Irish people are particularly in favour of such measures and are the most likely in the EU to support the banning of advertising of tobacco products in shops (84%), banning sales of tobacco products via the internet (83%), keeping tobacco products out of sight in shops (88%), and banning colours, logos and promotional elements from packets of tobacco products (81%).
European Commissioner in charge of Health & Consumer Policy, John Dalli, said: "I am deeply concerned about the fact that most Europeans start smoking in their early youth, before their 18th birthday.
"I am committed to ensuring that Europe lives up to its international commitments on regulating tobacco products, including reducing cigarettes' appeal to young people. It is in this spirit that the European Commission is currently shaping a proposal to revise the Tobacco Products Directive".
Other findings in the survey
- The number of cigarettes smoked on a daily basis is 14.2, which represents a slight decrease from the previous (2009) survey (14.4 cigarettes/day). Irish smokers smoke 15.7 cigarettes every day, down 0.3 on previous survey in 2009;
- Although there has been a 17% fall in the proportion of people exposed to tobacco smoke in restaurants and bars, 14% of EU citizens still reported that they were exposed to smoking in restaurants and 28% inside cafés and bars in the last 6 months.