A survey shows the number of smokers in Ireland has dropped by an estimated 165,000 over the last five years.

The findings are contained in the latest Healthy Ireland Survey from the Department of Health.

The survey shows 17% of the population are smokers, down from 23% in 2015, a decrease of an estimated 165,000 smokers.

Nearly 7,500 people - aged 15 and older- were interviewed for the survey, which was carried out between September 2018 and September 2019.

One in four smokers said the plain packaging with health warnings that were introduced last year encouraged them to stop.

Of those surveyed, 40% said they had tried to kick the habit over the past 12 months, citing health concerns as the main reason.

Smoking rates among the 25 to 34 age group remain highest. They are also high among people who are unemployed or living in deprived areas.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said:" I welcome the findings of this year's Healthy Ireland Survey and in particular the continued drop in the smoking rate.

"This shows that our multi-pronged approach, with legislation, support for smoking cessation, and policies to denormalise smoking in our society, is bearing fruit and we are heading in the right direction to being a tobacco free Ireland.

"Our aim is to achieve similar positive trends in the future with the other risk factors which impact on people's health and contribute to chronic disease, such as obesity, alcohol, physical inactivity and nutrition, through continued partnership working across Government and wider society on the Healthy Ireland agenda."

The survey showed that while overweight and obesity in men has dropped slightly since 2017 (from 70% to 66%), overall figures show that 60% of those surveyed were found to be overweight or obese, with just 37% of adults having a normal weight.

The survey includes new areas of study including sleep and sun protection. Survey participants reported getting, on average, 7.1 hours sleep on an average weeknight.

New data on sun protection shows that 92% of participants report using some form of protection when exposed to the sun for more than 30 minutes, with sunscreen and sunglasses being the most commonly used forms of protection.

The survey also contains a special report on parents and their health. The findings of this report show that:

  • Parents generally rate their health as very good and are less likely (than non-parents) to report a long-standing illness or health problem
  • 19% of parents who participated in the survey smoke
  • 63% are overweight or obese
  • 49% are achieving the recommended level of physical activity
  • Participating parents reported getting an average of 6.9 hours sleep on an average weeknight

The clinical lead for obesity with the HSE has said no one single answer will help address the issue of obesity.

Professor Donal O'Shea told Six One that the food and drinks industry has a part to play in changing how they target children in the marketing of highly processed foods. 

He said the policy must be changed, but also that there is a personal responsibility on parents to be educated on what their children are eating.