Victorian teen smoking rates halve in less than a decade

Monday 31 May, 2010

Smoking rates among students are at their lowest level in more than 20 years according to the latest secondary school smoking survey, giving Victorians something to celebrate this World No Tobacco Day.

The report shows approximately 6% of 12 to 15 year olds and 14% of 16 to 17 year olds are current smokers - half the number of teens who were smoking in 2002.

Quit Executive Director Fiona Sharkie said the results meant an estimated 9,000 fewer young people are smoking regularly in Victoria than in the last survey period.

"Smoking isn't holding the same sway with young people as it once did in Victoria, with more and more teenagers recognising the risks that it carries and choosing to stay away."

"Considering the vast majority of adult smokers start when they are teenagers, bringing youth smoking rates down is vital to slashing smoking rates in the wider community."

Ms Sharkie said the results also provided further evidence to support the Federal government's plans to introduce plain packaging.

Students viewed packs more negatively in this survey compared to 2005 - coinciding with the move from text health warnings to graphic health warnings. Results suggest the graphic warnings stimulated conversation about their content in 63% of respondents and led to 50% of student smokers forgoing a cigarette - compared to 50% and 41% respectively when there were text warnings.

"Clearly young people are influenced by changes in pack design. If introducing graphic health warnings can have this effect, the impact of plain packaging will be even greater."

Other figures of interest from the 2008 survey:

  • A significant reduction in the number of students trying cigarettes, with 71% of students having never smoked compared to 62% in 2005.
  • Dramatic increases in students' knowledge of health effects from smoking, attributed to new graphic health warnings and television advertising campaigns in 2006. For example, 80% of students were aware that smoking caused disease in fingers and toes in 2008, compared to just 37% in 2005.
  • Significant reductions in the number of students who believe smokers are more popular than non-smokers. 14% of students thought this in 2008 compared to 28% in 1996. Especially important given research shows teenagers' beliefs about smoking impact whether they start.
  • 46% of 16 and 17 year old girls and 31% of boys the same age agreed that lolly or fruit flavoured cigarettes made them curious to try smoking, demonstrating the merit of the State government's decision to ban these cigarettes in Victoria.

Lead Researcher and Deputy Director of Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Associate Professor Vicki White, said the continuing downward trend in student smoking rates was encouraging.

"The increase in tobacco excise, introduction of plain packaging and a point of sale display ban on tobacco being sold in Victoria from next year, should continue to help drive down student smoking rates."

"Teen smoking rates are strongly tied to the level of tobacco control activity in the community, so it's vital we don't take the foot off the accelerator when it comes to this issue."