Objectives: To estimate smoking prevalence among Australian secondary students in 1996 and to examine trends in smoking prevalence since 1984.
Method: A randomly selected representative sample of 434 secondary schools from across Australia participated in the study. At each school 80 randomly selected students completed a pencil-and-paper questionnaire anonymously. Data from 29,850 students aged between 12 and 17 years are reported.
Results: Current smoking (smoking in the week before the survey) was 8% in boys and 7% in girls aged 12, and rose to a peak prevalence among 17 year olds of 28% for boys and 34% for girls. The mean number of cigarettes smoked per week among current smokers rose from 11 for boys and six for girls aged 12 to 37 for boys and 34 for girls aged 17. Comparisons across survey years showed that while fewer 12 to 15 year olds were current smokers in 1996 than in 1984, the proportion in 1996 was greater than that in 1987 or 1990. Among 16 and 17 year olds, the proportion of current smokers in 1996 was greater than that seen in 1987 or 1990. An aggregate measure of tobacco involvement suggested that involvement with tobacco had remained stable since 1993 among 12 to 15 year olds.
Conclusion: The decline in adolescent smoking seen in the late 1980s has stopped.
Implications: Extrapolating from this survey, we estimate that more than 276,000 12-17 year old students were current smokers in 1996. If they all continue to smoke, 138,000 would die prematurely.