National survey release: tobacco use by Australian secondary school students declines

Tuesday 24 November, 2015

Smoking rates amongst Australian secondary school students are the lowest since surveys began more than 30 years ago, a comprehensive national survey released today revealed.

Only five per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed are current smokers (defined as having smoked in the past week), which is significantly lower than the seven per cent found in both 2011 and 2008.

Just over 23,000 secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years participated in the Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey.

The survey, conducted every 3 years since 1984, is collaboration between cancer councils in Victoria and several other states as well as the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health departments. It is led by Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC).

Key survey findings:
  • Approximately 81,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years smoked in the week before the survey.
  • 94% of 12-year-olds had no experience with smoking, declining to 78% of 15-year olds and 61% of 17-year-olds.
  • Only three per cent of all students had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, with a peak of 10% among 17-year-old males.
  • Winfield remains the main brand smoked by adolescent current smokers, JPS was the next most commonly smoked brand, overtaking Peter Jackson

Principal Research Fellow at CBRC, Associate Professor Vicki White, said the significant decrease in the proportion of 12- to 17-year-olds who were current smokers between the 2014 and 2011 surveys is especially encouraging, as the 2011 survey had found no change in smoking rates for this age group between 2008 and 2011.

"Identifying the relative role of factors associated with the reductions in smoking for 12- to 17-year-olds is beyond the scope of this study, but it is worth noting that between the 2011 and 2014 surveys, several tobacco-related policy interventions have occurred throughout Australia."

A/Prof White noted the decrease in smoking prevalence for 12- to 15-year-olds between 2011 and 2014 continues a decrease between 2008 and 2011, while the decrease for 16-17 year olds between 2011 and 2014 follows a plateau in smoking rates between 2008 and 2011.

"The consecutive decreases in the younger age group suggest that children growing into adolescence from 1999 onwards have overwhelmingly rejected experimenting and subsequently taking-up smoking. And it is also encouraging to see that this most recent period has re-activated a decline among older adolescents."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said the decline in adolescent smoking rates had occurred during a period of significant activity in the tobacco control landscape.

"Past research has shown that cigarette price increases via rises in taxes on these products, ongoing mass media campaigns and increasing smokefree areas are effective strategies for reducing tobacco use among adolescents," said Mr Harper.

"During the last survey period these activities have continued and we have also seen the introduction of plain packaging with larger pictorial health warnings."

"We are only now beginning to understand the significance of the change to cigarette packaging, but peer-reviewed published research shows this was associated with a reduction in perceived attractiveness and appeal of cigarette packs to adolescents even in the first year of its implementation."

Senator Fiona Nash, Minister for Rural Health, said:

"The ASSAD report confirms that Australia's sustained and multi-faceted approach to tobacco control over the past several decades continues to have the desired effect in reducing smoking rates, and also preventing more young kids from taking up smoking."


About the survey:

Cancer Council Victoria has coordinated the Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug survey for the last 30 years. This long-term public health research endeavour is undertaken with human research ethics approval, as well as approvals from education authorities, schools and parents.

The survey collects information on student age, gender, indigenous status, postcode, pocket money, self-assessment of academic achievement, and information on smoking and drinking practices, how children got access to cigarettes, brand preferences, and attitudes to smoking and drinking.

Table: Percentage of students who are current smokers (smoked in the past 7 days) in 2008, 2011 and 2014, by gender

                                   

12 to 15 years

16 to 17 years

12 to 17 years

 

2008

2011

2014

2008

2011

2014

2008

2011

2014

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Males

  4.8**

  4.4**

  2.8

12.8

13.4

11.6

  6.9**

  7.0**

  5.4

Females

  5.8**

  3.8

  3.2

12.5**

12.3**

  8.9

  7.7**

  6.3**

  4.9

Total

  5.3**

  4.1**

  3.0

12.7

12.9**

10.3

  7.3**

  6.7**

  5.1

** Significantly different from 2014 at p <0.01.

Updated: 24 Nov, 2015