A new report has found two in three young Victorians mistakenly believe occasional or social smoking is not very harmful, prompting alarm bells from public health experts.
The report, Tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter and illicit substance use among Victorian secondary school students, revealed just 29 per cent of Victorians aged 12 to 17 knew occasional smoking (e.g. one or two smokes occasionally) posed very serious health risks.
Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said the figures were alarming, but not surprising, given there were now fewer public education campaigns to inform young people of the harms of smoking.
"This new data clearly shows that the ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’ message is not getting through to our young people," Dr White said.
"While most young Victorians understand that smoking many cigarettes is dangerous, it’s obvious that more needs to be done to address the perception that social smoking, or having one or two smokes, is ok.
"New research out of the UK shows smoking just one cigarette a day substantially increases a person’s risk of heart disease and strokei. There truly is no safe level of smoking. The only way to avoid the harmful health effects associated with smoking is to avoid cigarettes entirely."
The Victorian survey revealed 85 per cent of students knew that smoking 10 or more cigarettes a day was very dangerous, however, this level of awareness hadn’t improved since 2008.
Students were more likely to try cigarettes or smoke regularly as they progressed through high school – 12 per cent of 17-year-olds reported smoking in the past seven days, versus just two percent of 12-year-olds.
Dr White said more public education campaigns are needed to highlight the dangers of cigarettes.
"We know public education campaigns are an incredibly effective tool for deterring non-smokers from taking up smoking, as well as motivating people who smoke to quit. But unfortunately the amount of funding available to run effective advertising campaigns has fallen dramatically, so these campaigns are not having the impact they should have," Dr White said.
"Smoking kills more than 15,000 Australians every year. We must do more to protect the health of our future generations."
About the research
The report, Tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter and illicit substance use among Victorian secondary school students, includes findings from the triennial Victorian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug survey 2014. Around 4,500 secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years participated in the survey. The report was prepared by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria for Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
i Low cigarette consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: meta-analysis of 141 cohort studies in 55 study reports, British Medical Journal, 24 January 2018 http://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.j5855
Quit Victoria is a partnership between VicHealth, Cancer Council Victoria, the State Government of Victoria and the Heart Foundation.