Exposure to and perceptions of the dangers and illnesses of passive smoking among Victorians: 2004

Germain D

CBRC Research Paper Series No. 17

This report, using data from the 2004 Victorian Population Survey, indicates that many Victorian adults are exposed to passive smoking. Findings show that almost half (48%) of survey respondents reported being somewhere in the past 48 hours where people have been smoking cigarettes, the most common places being their own home (28%) or work (28%). Smokers were most likely to be near people smoking in their own home (48%), while non-smokers were most likely to be exposed to passive smoking at work (25%) or on the street (19%).

The majority of respondents (80%) indicated they believed there are illnesses that can be caused by passive smoking, including almost two-thirds (65%) of smokers. Of a list of eight serious illnesses, the greatest proportion of respondents (73%) indicated they believed lung cancer can be caused by passive smoking, followed by asthma (70%), emphysema (65%) bronchitis (61%) and heart disease (60%). There was a relatively low level of belief among respondents that sudden infant death (SIDS) (30%), miscarriage (30%) and cancer of the cervix (16%) can be caused by passive smoking.

Most respondents (80%), including over half of smokers (53%), said they had some level of concern about being exposed to passive smoking. The majority of respondents disagreed that the dangers of passive smoking have been exaggerated (81%). Although non-smokers were more likely to disagree than smokers, 6 in 10 respondents who smoked also disagreed that the dangers of passive smoking have been exaggerated.

Half (50%) of non-smokers indicated that if someone asked them if they mind whether they smoke, they would tell the person they would prefer it if they didn’t smoke, while 27% said they would say they don’t mind, but wish they wouldn’t smoke. Although most non-smokers suggested they do not like people smoking near them, only 6% of non-smokers said they would ask a person to stop smoking if they just lit up a cigarette nearby, with the majority of these respondents reporting they would simply move away (71%) or do nothing (18%).

Overall, this report suggests that many Victorian adults are concerned about being exposed to second-hand smoke and believe that passive smoking can cause a range of serious illness. Furthermore, findings suggest that using a ‘common courtesy’ approach (asking people not to, or to stop smoking) is not effective on its own to eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke, and that legislative reforms are likely to be the only effective strategy to eliminate exposure.

Updated: 14 Jan, 2013