2013 Smoking Prevalance Data

The HSE monitors cigarette smoking prevalence and behaviour on a monthly basis to gain a detailed picture of smoking patterns in Ireland and to identify trends in this pattern. This information is useful for informing policy decisions. The data are compiled from a monthly quota survey conducted on Ipsos MRBI’s Omnipoll, a telephone omnibus survey. The data consist of a collection of 1,000 respondents per month from July 2002 to date. The research is conducted among Irish adults aged 15 years and over. The data are weighted by gender, age, social class and region.

Cigarette smoking prevalence is analysed under a number of demographic classifications to further our understanding of smoking behaviour. Cigarette consumption and brand choice data are also presented. Smoking prevalence rates and smoker demographic characteristics are presented as 12 month averages in order to provide more stable estimates. Trends over time are presented as 12 month moving averages in order to give a better picture of the underlying trend. Minor discrepancies between prevalence figures and trend figures reflect these different methods of calculation.

Methodological Changes May 2008


Smoking was defined as responding yes to the question “Do you smoke one or more cigarettes each week, whether packaged or roll your own?” The overall prevalence of cigarette smoking in Ireland at December 2013 was 21.5% (Chart 1). There has been a decline in prevalence of 2 percentage points since June 2010.

Chart 1.1 shows the prevalence of smoking by gender at December 2013. As has been the case since the research began, a higher percentage of men (22.9%) reported being smokers than did women (20.2%).

Chart 1.2 shows cigarette smoking by age group. Smoking rates were highest among young adults (18 34 years), reaching 30.7% in the 18 24 year old age group. Prevalence was lowest among the 65 age group at 9.7%. Just over one in eight 15 17 year olds (13.3%) reported smoking. There have been marginal decreases in smoking prevalence in all age groups over 25 in the last year, with the exception of those aged 55 64 years. There has been small increases in smoking prevalence amongst 18 to 24 year olds and 15 to 17 year olds in the last year.

Chart 1.3 looks at socio economic groups and shows that the highest cigarette smoking prevalence rates were in the lower socio economic groups (C2 and DE Categories) The lowest smoking rates (15.5% and 13%) were among farmers (F) and higher socio economic groups (AB). Smoking prevalence has declined amongst all groups with the exception of C1s in the last year.

Chart 1.4 shows cigarette smoking rates by region. There was very little difference in smoking rates in the different regions. However, caution is required in interpreting these figures as the rates were not adjusted to account for the different age and social class structures in each region. Smoking rates were lowest in Connaught/Ulster (21.1%), with marginally higher rates in Munster (21.3%) and Dublin (21.4%) and highest in Rest of Leinster at (22%).

Finally, prevalence rates by Health Service Executive (HSE) administrative area are presented in Chart 1.5. There is very little difference in smoking rates in the different areas. HSE Dublin/Mid Leinster has the lowest rate at 20.1% at December 2013, while Dublin North East has the highest at 23.2%.


The 12 month moving average trends provide a smoothed pattern to the data and give a picture of smoking behaviour between June 2003 and December 2013. Smokers were those who answered yes to the question “Do you smoke one or more cigarettes each week, whether packaged or roll your own?”

Read or download Trend Data 2013 here


This section of the data focuses on smokers only, and reflect the frequency of the various demographic groups within the population as well as the prevalence of smoking within the demographic groups. The charts show the breakdown of smokers by gender, the distribution of smokers across age groups, and the distribution of smokers by social class. They also show the percentages of smokers by region and by Health Service Executive (HSE) administrative area, and the number of cigarettes smoked daily by all reported smokers.

Read or download the Description of Smokers report here.


The following Market Data is for 2012. A 2013 update will be provided shortly.

The following charts are based on data relating to the Irish cigarette market.

Distributor Market Share
The Irish market is dominated by three main distributors. The JTI group has the largest market share with over 50% of sales at December 2012 (Chart 4).

Most Popular Brands
The JTI Group distributes three of the top five most popular brands smoked Benson and Hedges, Silk Cut Purple and Silk Cut Blue (Chart 4.1). These three brands have featured in the top five since August 2003. Benson & Hedges is the most popular brand, being smoked by 13.3% of smokers at December 2012. Over one half of smokers smoke these five brands.

The gender distribution of smokers of the five most popular brands is shown in Chart 4.2. Silk Cut cigarettes (Blue and Purple) are favoured by women smokers. Two thirds of those who smoke Silk Cut are women. Approximately 60% of smokers who smoke Marlboro Gold and Benson & Hedges are men.

Chart 4.3 highlights consumer patterns according to age group. Marlboro Gold, John Player Blue and Benson & Hedges are favoured by younger smokers over 50% of smokers of these three brands are under 35 years of age. Of smokers who smoke Marlboro Gold, almost half (47.56%) are in the 25 34 age group more than a quarter of John Player Blue smokers are aged 18 24. Silk Cut brands appear to be more popular among older age groups.

Methodological Changes to Survey

Prior to May 2008, the Ipsos MRBI telephone omnipoll was conducted with respondents via landline telephone numbers only. From May 2008 the data collection methodology was updated to reflect changing demographics and telephone usage patterns in Ireland. The sample population is now drawn from a combination of both landline and mobile phone numbers. While the questionnaire and quota controls are unchanged, some population subgroups that may previously have been difficult to contact are now better represented in the sample.

This change in sampling method resulted in an increase in prevalence (of about 3%) from May 2008 on. The pre May 2008 data have therefore been re calibrated to allow for trend analysis, with the caveat that calibration may not restore strict comparability. The prevalence rates presented prior to May 2008 therefore differ from those previously published with respect to magnitude (but not trend pattern).

Technical note

To re calibrate the trend data, the data were seasonally adjusted and then the six months of data prior to the change were compared with six months of data after the change in order to isolate the impact of the change in methodology. The smoking prevalence figures prior to May 2008 were subsequently adjusted accordingly, on the assumption that the change in sampling approach was the only difference in smoking prevalence between the two 6 month periods.


Cigarette Smoking Prevalence Refers to self reported use of cigarettes in the population (based on the proportion of survey respondents who answer yes to the question “Do you smoke one or more cigarettes each week, whether packaged or roll your own?”)

Weighted Data Quota controls on the sample are set to ensure each demographic group is interviewed in proportion to its representation in the over
all population. When quotas are underachieved or overachieved, weightings are applied to align the sample’s final demographic profile with that of the overall population.

12 month moving average trend The 12 month moving average is used for showing trends over time in order to provide more stable rates and to give a clearer representation of the underlying trend. It is calculated for each month by getting the average of the data value for that month together with the previous 11 months’ data values, and so on. This process smoothes out the trend line by removing ‘noise’ (large month to month fluctuations).

Social Class Categorisation

A Professional people, very senior managers in business and commerce, or top level civil servants

B Middle management executives in large organizations Principal Officers in local government and civil service top management or owners of small business concerns, education and service establishments

C1 Junior management, owners of small establishments and all others in non manual positions

C2 All skilled manual workers and those manual workers with responsibility for other people

D All semi skilled and unskilled manual workers

E All those entirely dependent on the state long term those unemployed for period exceeding 6 months

F Farmers or farm managers

(Source AIMRO Standard Guide for Social Class)

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Australia in a fog over ban on branded cigarettes

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SYDNEY (Reuters) More than a year after Australia became the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, there is little hard evidence to prove the trailblazing move is worth emulating.

Challenges to the stringent laws remain bogged down in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the tobacco lobby is taking control of a debate characterized by a paucity of data.

At the King of the Pack tobacconist in central Sydney, James Yu shakes his head despondently as he says his cigarette sales volumes have plummeted 30 percent over the past year.

Yu’s sliding sales should be music to the ears of the Australian government, a vindication of laws introduced in December, 2012, that forced tobacco companies to replace logos and branding with graphic images of smoking related diseases on an olive green background.

Cigarette sales in supermarkets, which account for a large portion of the market, shrank 0.9 percent overall by volume in 2013, according to the latest data available from Retail World, but there is no clear link to the plain packaging laws.

The Retail World supermarket sales data also showed that while sales volumes of “mainstream” and “premium” cigarettes fell by 8 9 percent, “value” brand sales rose 12.9 percent, a jump Big Tobacco has seized on as supporting the theory that smokers are trading down in response to the legislation.

For his part, Yu says his business has been slowed not by the new packs but by old fashioned monetary deterrents a 12.5 percent rise in tobacco excise at the end of 2013 that increased pack prices from an average A$17.50 to A$19.70.

“Smokers don’t mind plain packaging actually, the critical thing is the price hike,” Yu says from his cramped booth, a view that is supported by other sellers polled by Reuters.

With the tax rise appearing to pack a bigger punch than the costly introduction of plain packaging a year earlier, the Australian government has been accused of not doing enough to defend its legislation, presenting a potential stumbling block for other countries looking to follow in its footsteps.

New Zealand, France, India, South Africa and Britain are all considering adopting standardized packaging on tobacco products.

On Thursday, Britain said it was minded to force tobacco firms to sell cigarettes in plain standardized packaging and would hold a short consultation which could result in new regulations entering into force before May 2015.

Jane Ellison, a minister in Britain’s Department of Health, cited what she called a “compelling” review commissioned by the government which she said had shown plain packaging would improve public health and cut the number of child smokers.

The Australian government says the key objective of the policy is to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products to consumers, particularly young people.

The goal of reducing smoking rates, it says, is a long term measure and it is too early properly to judge plain packaging a success or failure on those grounds.

Still, the lack of data is frustrating the anti smoking lobby and allowing Big Tobacco to step into the void and dominate the debate.


A raft of international studies has given some contradictory findings on the potential impact of plain packaging and on the recorded impact of graphic health warnings.

A 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an estimated 1.6 million Americans tried to quit as a result of graphic anti smoking ads, but a 2010 report in the American Journal of Public Health found that industry anti smoking ads designed to discourage young people from picking up the habit had the opposite effect.

“It’s very difficult to quantify the impact of plain packaging in isolation,” said Alan Lopez, a University of Melbourne professor currently working at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. “It’s part of a cocktail of intervention carried out by Australia, although it’s clear that taxation on tobacco products is absolutely the most effective way to cut smoking.”

The Australian government does not publicly release retail sales data on the basis that the market, which is dominated by Imperial, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, is so tightly held that doing so would reveal sensitive commercial information.

Official data has been restricted to a survey conducted in late 2012 during the pack changeover, when smokers reported more of an inclination to quit, and a report at the start of 2013 from the smoking cessation helpline, Quitline, showing a 78 percent surge in calls associated with plain packaging.

A monthly tracking survey of smokers and recent quitters to gauge the effect of the legislation since it came into force on December 1, 2012, is due for release later this year.

“The tobacco plain packaging measure is an investment in the long term health of Australians and the full effects of the measure will be seen over the long term,” Kay McNiece, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said in an email.

“However, based on recently published independent, peer reviewed research, early indications are that the tobacco plain packaging measure is having an effect.”

Critics, however, say that the government sponsored research is self reported by smokers, a notoriously unreliable measure.

“The government now has 12 months of data. Why is the government withholding data?” said Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

McNiece said the Health Department does not have access to official sales data and declined to comment on whether it was looking at measures other than self reported activity.

Industry sales figures released by Marlboro maker Philip Morris last month showed a 0.3 percent increase in deliveries of tobacco to retailers last year the first rise in at least five years.

That data made headlines but lacked detail and failed to take into account a likely bump from restocking with new packs in 2013, said Mike Daube, a professor of health policy at Curtin University in Perth.

“To make claims of this kind without providing any evidence is clearly a desperate attempt to influence the UK report.”

Clayton Ford, a spokesman for Philip Morris in Australia, said the U.S. company recorded steady sales by both volume and value last year even as it announced this week it was ending production here after 60 years.

The decision to close its factory in Victoria state had “absolutely no impact from plain packaging”, and was instead a result of government restrictions on manufacturing that impeded its exports to Asia, Ford said.


Philip Morris is challenging the plain packaging laws under Australia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong, arguing that it is being deprived of its intellectual property rights.

The legislation is also bogged down in the WTO where a case launched by Ukraine and later joined by Indonesia, Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic to overturn the law, funded at least in part by one or more tobacco firms, has been running for more than 2 years.

Frustrated at the glacial pace of the complaints, Australia last month took the unusual step of speeding up one of the complaints against itself.

“All of those delays are in the industry’s favor,” said Tania Voon, a professor at the University of Melbourne law school. “It knows that as long as the cases go on without a resolution, other countries are less likely to follow.”

Australia wants to cut the number of people who smoke from around 15 percent of the population to 10 percent by 2018. Health authorities say smoking kills 15,000 Australians each year with social and health costs of around A$32 billion.

(Additional reporting by Maggie Lu YueYang in SYDNEY and William James in LONDON Editing by Mike Collett White)