Teen smoking rates continue to decline

hand with cigarette

A major survey of Australian teenagers shows that smoking rates are continuing to decline, in an encouraging trend welcomed by Quit Victoria and the Heart Foundation.

The 2014 survey, led by Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, asked more than 23,000 students aged between 12 and 17 about their lifetime and current use of tobacco. Among its findings were:

  • Five per cent of 12 to 17-year olds were “current smokers” who had lit up in the week prior to the survey. This is down from 7% in previous surveys in 2011 and 2008.
  • Five per cent is equivalent to approximately 81,000 12 to 17-year-olds in Australia being current smokers. Fewer than 3000 12-year-olds are current smokers, but there are about 25,000 17-year-olds who are current smokers.
  • Half of current smokers obtained their last cigarette from friends, 20% had someone buy cigarettes for them, and 14% obtained them from home (parents, siblings or took from home).

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White says the survey’s results show that smoking rates among young people are headed in the right direction.

“These data suggest that young teenagers in particular are increasingly turning away from experimenting with smoking,’’ Dr White says.

“These data show the effectiveness of measures like graphic television campaigns, smokefree legislation and price increases.

“They also highlight the necessity of introducing new measures, like plain packaging, to keep the downward pressure on teen smoking rates.”

Dr White says it is troubling, however, that despite bans on sales of cigarettes to minors, an estimated 81,000 adolescents are still able to get their hands on cigarettes weekly, if not daily.

“It is beyond disappointing that adults – and, in some cases, parents – are helping young people become addicted to nicotine, a drug that has a significant effect on adolescent brain development.

“Adults who are supplying cigarettes to adolescents and children are helping their young friends and family members get hooked on a product that kills two out of three users.

“Part of the problem is that cigarettes, the leading preventable cause of death in Australia, can currently be sold by anyone, almost anywhere, which is absolutely the wrong message to send kids and helps no-one but the tobacco industry who are profiting from their sales.

“Cigarettes are available in more shops than milk and bread, let alone fresh fruit and vegetables, and that’s just wrong. We need to think about how we can ensure adolescents – and people trying to be tobacco-free – aren’t subjected to cigarette marketing behind every cash register they encounter.”

National Heart Foundation tobacco control spokesperson, Maurice Swanson, says these results are fantastic news for public health in Australia.

“The comprehensive range of strategies implemented over the past 30 years to reduce smoking in Australia means that hundreds of thousands of deaths will be prevented in future years,” he says.

National Heart Foundation CEO, Mary Barry, says the Federal Labor Party’s announcement today of further tobacco tax increases if elected, would help build on this momentum.

“The Heart Foundation is committed to minimising the substantial harm inflicted on our community by smoking,” Barry says.

“Under Labor’s proposal, the tobacco excise, which has been rising by 12.5% a year since 2013 would continue to rise another four times each year until 2020.”

Barry says that contrary to some views, the proposed tax increases would actually be of most benefit to lower-income Australians.

“Further reducing demand for tobacco products means more money in the pockets of lower-income Australians at the expense of an addictive and often, deadly habit,” she says.

“We know these policies work, with no less an authority than the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying that the most effective approach to controlling the spread of tobacco use is through policies that directly reduce the demand for it.”


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