This is the first time the smoking rate has dropped below the 20 per cent barrier.
However, the Society says that the national figure masks a high smoking rate among people on low incomes. The HSE Report finds that semi-skilled, unskilled, or unemployed people account for almost 39 per cent of the smoking population.
The Irish Cancer Society says that a special, targeted effort needs to be made in disadvantaged communities so that the health divide between rich and poor doesn’t widen.
“The smoking rate in Ireland has dropped from 28.28 per cent in June 2003 to 19.53 per cent in December 2014,” says Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Irish Cancer Society.
“That drop tells us that everything we’ve done to reduce the number of smokers is working.
“However, we know that people from poorer communities are more likely to smoke and that smoking accounts for half the gap in life expectancy between a rich person and a poor person. Smoking has been identified as the single biggest cause of inequality in death rates.
“Therefore, when we see that the smoking rate is still much higher in disadvantaged areas, it indicates that more needs to be done to help people quit.
“For instance, the smoking rate among traveller women and men was 52.5 per cent in 2010 and for homeless people it was 90 per cent in 2013. Clearly, exceptional efforts need to be made to achieve the government’s ambitious goal of a five per cent smoking rate by 2025, particularly in disadvantaged or marginalised communities.”
The Irish Cancer Society says the government needs to increase resources in local communities that will support smokers to quit.
The early findings from the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘We Can Quit’ pilot programme indicate that with help available that is designed to meet particular needs, people have more success in quitting.
“Such initiatives hit tobacco where prevalence rates are stubbornly high,” says Ms O’Meara.
“Like ‘We Can Quit’, cessation services need to be targeted in order to reach those from poorer communities.
“Investment in such services is one of the most cost-effective healthcare treatments, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Good cessation services can double the chances of quitting. Today’s news shows less people are smoking in Ireland than ever. With the right support, we can make smoking history.”