Over a quarter of a million Australian school students aged 12-17 are current smokers, according to new research released today. Despite the number large number of students continuing to smoke, however, researchers say the trends in youth smoking are encouraging, with the latest national figures showing a slight decline for the first time in over a decade.
The latest figures, to be published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, show smoking rates amongst Australian school students are declining in students aged 12-15, while rates amongst students aged 16 and 17 year have remained stable since the last survey in 1996.
The study's authors estimate that across Australia, just under 269,000 boys and girls at school aged between 12 to 17 are current smokers.
The study of smoking rates amongst school students has been conducted nationally every three years since 1984 by The Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer. Results released today are the findings of the most recent survey, conducted in 1999.
The 1999 study is based on a survey of 25, 486 students aged between 12 and 17 from almost 400 schools across Australia.
Director of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer and study author Professor David Hill says that if all of the 269,000 students who were current smokers in 1999 continued to smoke, 134,000 would die prematurely.
Other key findings from the study released today include:
- Smoking rates in students increase with age – while 6% of 12 year olds were current smokers, around a third of students aged 17 smoke
- The rate amongst students aged 12-15 was 14%, a fall of 2% from 16%
- Smoking rates amongst 16 and 17 year olds have changed little since the last surveyed in 1996; around one third of students in this age group are current smokers
- A third of boys and a quarter of girls surveyed who had smoked in the previous week had bought their last cigarette themselves.
In the 1999 survey, for the first time students were asked if they had ever tried a cigar. Around half of 17 year old boys and a third of 17 year old girls had tried a cigar. Across all age groups, 31% of boys and 18% of girls said they had at least had a few puffs of a cigar.
'Whether this apparent interest in cigar smoking is transient, and reflects the publicity associated with the rise of cigars bars and the promotion of cigar smoking, or whether it reflects a more permanent shift in the products students smoke, will be examined in the next survey,' Professor Hill said.
Professor Hill said the latest national snapshot of students smoking habits contained both good news and bad news.
'It’s encouraging that the proportion of students buying cigarettes is decreasing across all age groups, and the decrease has been significant in students aged between 12-15.'
'Given the increased attention of many state governments on youth access to tobacco in the last 18 months, it will be interesting to see if the proportion of students buying cigarettes decreases again in the next survey.'
'It’s also encouraging that rates in younger students have shown a significant decrease. This is the first time in over a decade that we have seen smoking rates in students of this age group fall.'
'Whilst smoking rates in older students have not followed the trend of rates in younger students, neither have they increased.'
Professor Hill said the stabilizing of smoking rates amongst students could be linked to decreases in adult smoking rates.
'We know that there is reduced uptake of smoking amongst students whose parents succeed in quitting, therefore it’s not surprising to find smoking rates amongst students mirroring the falls in adult smoking rates we’ve seen in the last few years.'
Professor Hill said it was also highly likely that many students surveyed would have been exposed to the National Tobacco Campaign’s 'Every Cigarette is Doing You Damage’ television advertisements. The major advertising expenditure in the campaign occurred during the years 1996-1999.
'While these advertisements were not specifically designed to target teenagers directly, evaluations of the campaign have shown that the campaign had a high impact amongst teenagers, and therefore it may have had an indirect effect on adolescent smoking behaviours.'
Dr Hill also said that young people who did not remain at school past the age of 15 are not included in the study.
'This means that the results of this study would, if anything, tend to underestimate current Australian youth smoking rates, as young people who leave school early are more likely to smoke.'
Changes in the use of tobacco among Australian secondary students: results of the 1999 prevalence study and comparisons with earlier years was published in the April issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
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