Young smokers numbers are going down.
Young smokers numbers are going down.

Tobacco companies targeting young through gaming

FEWER youths are smoking than ever before in New South Wales, with only 6.7% of 12 to 17-year-olds describing themselves as heavy, light or occasional smokers.

A new paper jointly produced by Cancer Institute NSW and the NSW Ministry of Health staff said the figure had fallen almost 17 percentage points since 1996 when it sat at 23.5% of adolescents.

Despite the positive results, the researchers warned youths faced underhanded new forms of temptation that could undo the progress already made.

"Rising cigarette prices, smoke-free environment and advertising policies, plain packaging and mass media campaigns such as the National Tobacco Campaign have all played a role in us being able to achieve these rates," said lead author and Cancer Institute manager of cancer prevention Anita Dessaix.

"But as traditional forms of tobacco advertising close off, tobacco companies are seeking alternative ways to promote their products.

"On average, for every extra hour that young people spend on the internet daily, their exposure to smoking in video games increases by 8%."

The report found successful measures included NSW's prohibition on "per stick" cigarette sales or packets of fewer than 20 cigarettes, alongside tough point-of-sale advertising restrictions and plain packaging laws.

But it said ongoing monitoring of tobacco law enforcement, further tax increases and effective anti-smoking campaigns would remain crucial in the coming years.

Ms Dessaix said it was vital that the number of young people who had never smoked continued to increase.

The proportion of young 'never smokers' in Australia has jumped 20% since 2001, and 77% of 12 to 17-year-olds were in this category in 2014.

"We have come a long way - Australia now has one of the lowest rates of youth smoking in the world - but we need to remain vigilant and responsive to tobacco industry marketing tactics," Ms Dessaix said.

The North and Mid North Coast local health districts have some of the highest smoking rates in the state, with 19% and 20% of over-16s qualifying as smokers in 2014. -APN NEWSDESK


Smoking rates by local health district (aged over 16, figures for under 16-year-olds are not available by region)

Far West - 24%

South Western Sydney - 20.7%

Mid North Coast - 20%

Northern NSW - 19%

Illawarra Shoalhaven - 18%

Murrumbidgee - 17.6%

Western NSW - 17.4%

Sydney - 16.2%

Central Coast - 16.2%

Nepean Blue Mountains - 15.7%

Hunter New England - 15.4%

South Eastern Sydney - 14.3%

Western Sydney - 13.9%

Southern NSW - 12.7%

Northern Sydney - 8.9%

NSW TOTAL - 15.6%

Source: Health Stats NSW (2014)