Smoking rates in Victoria have dropped by more than a quarter since 1998, according to new research.
Minister for Health David Davis said today that data from the Cancer Council Victoria shows only 15.3 per cent of Victorians are now regular smokers, compared to 21.2 per cent in 1998.
"The research also reveals more than half of Victorians (55 per cent) have never smoked which is the highest proportion recorded since 1998," Mr Davis said.
"While the trend is good, we know there is still much to be done to reduce the burden of smoking on families and our health system.
"Almost 4,000 Victorians die every year from smoking and the Victorian Coalition Government is committed to working with the community and our agencies to encourage smokers to quit.
"I'm particularly interested in reducing the number of young people smoking and reducing exposure to second hand smoke is also a priority."
According to the research:
*Regular smoking has declined at a similar rate for both males and females, though males were more likely than females to be regular smokers in 2010 (17.9 per cent, males; 12.8 per cent, females);
*There has been a significant decline in the proportion of younger Victorians (age 18 to 29 years) who are regular smokers, especially since 2005.
Professor Melanie Wakefield from Cancer Council Victoria said the survey revealed some interesting differences in the rates of smoking decline amongst different socio-economic groups.
"Socio-economic disparities in smoking behaviours have been a major concern for policy makers and practitioners over the previous decade, with consistently higher levels of smoking in the most disadvantaged groups," Prof Wakefield said.
"Between 1998 and 2004 the rate of regular smoking was declining most rapidly among the higher socio-economic status (SES) Victorians.
"However between 2005 and 2010 this had reversed and the decrease in regular smoking rates was fastest among the lowest SES group."
Professor Wakefield said this evidence of a 'narrowing of the gap' in smoking status between low and high SES Victorians could be due to tobacco control initiatives with a particular emphasis on reducing smoking among low SES adults.
"During the late 2000s we have seen an escalation in tobacco control efforts, including increases to tobacco taxation and increased funding for social marketing campaigns - both particularly effective ways of targeting this group," Prof Wakefield said.
Executive Director of Quit Victoria Ms Fiona Sharkie cautioned against interpreting the drop in smoking rates as a sign tobacco was 'a problem solved' in Victoria.
"There is a still long way to go before smoking is no longer a major health problem," Ms Sharkie said.