Smoking survey - Rate down to 25% - 15/11/2004

Conclusions of smoking and drinking survey
This Study has addressed two major social issues, smoking and drinking, and especially how these issues are affecting the younger generations. The findings offer a lot of food for thought and possible action on the part of the authorities to implement the public's wishes on these two important issues.

This study confirms that about one fourth of the population (23.7%) smoke. Among these, there are relatively more males (29.3%) than females (18.3%). The highest percentages of smokers are in the 26-65 age bracket (35.3%) with the oldest respondents (65+: 8.7%) registering the lowest percentage. The youngest age group made up of those aged 16-25 registered 20.8%. The overwhelming majority said that they do not smoke (76.3%). The highest percentage of smokers belong to the DE (27.6%) and C1 27.2%) categories. A much lower percentage was registered among smokers who hail from the highest socio-economic category (AB: 18.4%). Of all C2 respondents, 20.5% said they smoke.

Spending on cigarettes
Smokers were in turn asked how much they spend on cigarettes every week; 5.6% said that they spend over Lm20 per week while 19.7% declared that they spend up to Lm2 each week. As many as 56.3% fork out more than Lm5 a week to indulge in their habit; 9.9% were unable to give an estimate, saying "it depends".

Although there are relatively fewer female smokers than men, female smokers can also be heavy smokers. In fact, 21.4% of female smokers declared they spend between Lm2 and Lm5 a week; 25% declared that they spend over Lm5 but less than Lm10; 14.3% spend between Lm10 and Lm15. A few others spend even more.

Similarly, smoking is not restricted to any particular social class or age group. This study reveals that across the age groups, the oldest Maltese (65+: 25%) register the highest percentage of those who spend between Lm10 and Lm15 a week, followed by those in the 36-50 age category (20.8%) and the youngest age group (16-25: 20%).

Non-smokers were in turn asked whether they had ever smoked. Of these, 70.7% declared that they had never smoked, while the rest said that they had smoked in varying degrees. Among non-smokers 10.9% said they used to "smoke a lot", 17.9% "a little" while 0.4% did not want to commit themselves. It is noteworthy that 84% of the respondents who said that they had "smoked a lot" were males.

Surprisingly perhaps, large numbers of both smokers (71.8%) and non-smokers (95.6%) consider the new law that regulates smoking in public to have been necessary. Female smokers are relatively more positive in this respect (75% vs. males: 69.8%). Younger smokers recorded the lowest support for recent legislation.

Virtually all non-smoker respondents (95.6%) effectively welcomed this development.

In general, the Maltese do not think that the recent law is being vigorously observed: only 46.7% of the respondents replied "generally yes", while 39.7% said this law was "not always" being observed, and 4.3% said that according to them "it is never being observed". The rest did not answer the question. Among those who said the law was "not always" being observed, the highest percentage was registered by the youngest age group (16-25: 47.9%).

Though cigarettes are easily available from many outlets in Malta, in many countries abroad it is unlawful to sell cigarettes to minors. In addition to such restrictions on the sale of cigarettes, in some countries too, all cigarette packets carry very graphic depictions of the ill effects of smoking as a deterrent to smokers.

Respondents were asked (i) whether they agree that cigarettes should be sold to minors from different outlets and (ii) whether graphic depictions of the harm caused by smoking should start being printed on the packet.

The overwhelming majority (97%) agree that there should be a law that prohibits the sale of cigarettes to minors. There is consensus that the sale of cigarettes should be regulated and that strict legislative measures should be taken so that persons under 18 will not be sold cigarettes.

As to whether each cigarette packet should also carry a strong graphic depiction of the harm caused by smoking, the Maltese again overwhelmingly proved to be in favour, to the extent that as many as 93.3% stated that such pictures should be printed on the packets. Only, 6.3% did not agree; 0.3% did not answer.

Sale of alcohol to minors
The current situation on the availability of alcohol to persons under 16 has been very critically appraised by participants in this study. They were asked whether they thought it should be possible for minors to buy alcohol from bars, retail outlets such as groceries and from supermarkets.

As many as 98% stated that alcohol should definitely not be available to minors through bars; another 98% stated that it should not be available through retail outlets, while 97% said that it should not be available from supermarkets. These findings very clearly point to the need for a radical departure from current practices and the enforcement of any existing regulation that prevents minors from having easy access to alcohol.

Who would be responsible if such provisions were to be introduced but still be flouted? Eighty-eight point four per cent stated that the owners of bars and of retail outlets should then be held responsible. In respect of supermarkets, the percentage was slightly higher, at 88.6%. A further 31% stated that parents should be held responsible, while 15.6% stated that the individual him/herself should be blamed.

Twenty per cent also said the blame should rest with the police for lack of vigilance; 5.1% stated that the government would also need to be blamed while yet another 1.7% stated that teachers should be blamed. These percentages add up to more than 100% because respondents could give more than one answer.

In certain countries like the USA the police are empowered to pick up persons under age caught in specific places after certain hours and take them home to their parents. Participants in this study were asked whether such a law should be introduced in Malta, and what age should be applicable if the law were to be applied.

As many as 86.7% unhesitatingly confirmed that such a law should be introduced; 11% stated that it should not, while the remaining 2.3% could not give a definite answer. As many as 81.3% of those in the 16-25 age bracket agree with its introduction. The highest percentage in its favour was registered among persons aged 36-50, a category that is generally burdened with the care of teenage children, with 89.5% expressing themselves in favour. The highest level of support was also registered among members of the C2 socio-economic category (89.3%).

When those who agreed with the introduction of this legal provision were asked to indicate what age the law should apply to, a range from 13 to 21 years was given. The two ages most frequently mentioned were 16, given by 35% of all the respondents, and 18, given by 54.6%. Strikingly again, 41% of young people aged 16-25 gave 16 as the age when this provision should be applicable, while another 48.7% from the same young age group gave 18 as the age when this should be applicable.

It does appear that even persons who would themselves be affected by the law, or who have just come out of the age in which they would have been affected by its introduction, are strongly in favour of the introduction of such drastic measures.

As a corollary to this issue, another two questions were asked: (a) whether the owner of the locality in which persons picked up by the police is found should be fined, and (b) whether the individual him/herself caught out of bounds should be fined.

This study shows that 83.8% think that the individual him/herself should be fined and as many as 89.6% also state that the owner of the bar or club where the person so caught is found should also be fined. In 15.4% of the cases, respondents stated that the individual him/herself should not be fined.

Drink driving
The last question in this study focused on what the Maltese think about current police efforts to stop drink driving. It appears that the majority are not convinced that the police are active enough in this area: only 45.3% think they are.

On the other hand 39.3% specifically say that the police are not doing their utmost while 15.3% did not commit themselves. What is very significant is that as many as 52.1% of young people aged 16-25, who would probably be most affected by police action in this regard, specifically say that the police are not fulfilling their duty.

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