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Press Release

Level of smoking drops to 17% of the population - Healthy Ireland Survey

Published: 20 November 2019
From: Department of Health
  • obesity: still a major concern with 60% overweight or obese
  • activity: 54% of men and 38% of women achieve the minimum level of recommended physical activity
  • sleep: adults get 7.1 hours sleep on an average weeknight
  • carers: 42% of carers report that they themselves have a long-standing illness or health problem

Minister of State for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne TD, today launched the annual Healthy Ireland Survey, funded by the Department of Health and conducted by Ipsos MRBI.

The prevalence of smoking has dropped from 23% in 2015 to 17% in 2019 which means there are now an estimated 165,000 fewer smokers than there were five years ago. Plain packaging with health warnings, introduced under a new law in 2018, was cited by 25% of smokers as a good motivation to quit. In the last 12 months 40% of smokers have made an attempt to quit, with health concerns being the prime motivator for people wanting to quit.

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 findings from the 2019 Survey report will help us monitor how well our policies are working, as well as identifying ways we can better support people to be healthy."

Speaking at the launch, Minister Byrne welcomed publication of the report, saying:

“Given the risks associated with smoking, these figures give us confidence that we are on the right track in terms of the health promotion and legislative measures we’re putting in place. I am concerned that the smoking rates are highest in our young adults aged 25-34 and are also much higher in people who are unemployed or living in more deprived areas. I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that there are a range of supports available from the HSE QUIT service for anyone who wants support to quit smoking.”

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.

Minister Byrne continued:

“The levels of overweight and obesity in our population remains a great cause for concern. While levels appear to be stabilising, there is no room for complacency. In recent years Government has introduced evidence-based policies and a range of initiatives and actions to tackle both obesity and physical inactivity, and implementation of these remains a priority. This year’s survey shows a small increase in the number of people meeting the guidelines on physical activity, which is encouraging.”

This year’s survey includes new areas of study including sleep and sun protection. Sleep is an important element of a healthy lifestyle and survey participants reported getting, on average, 7.1 hours sleep on an average weeknight.

The 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. Ireland’s first Skin Cancer Prevention Plan was launched earlier this year, and this baseline data from today’s survey will help monitor progress of that plan.

The 2019 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

Minister Byrne commented:

“We know that the health behaviours of parents have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of their children, and that parents are an important role model for their children in adopting healthy lifestyles. The survey shows us some encouraging findings about parents and their efforts to look after their families’ health, but also shows areas where we could better support parents and families to make healthier choices.”

This year’s survey also looked at the health of people with other caring responsibilities and found that almost one in ten of us provide regular unpaid personal help to a family member or friend with a long-term health problem or disability. The survey also found that 42% of carers report that they themselves have a long-standing illness or health problem.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, commented:

“This is the fifth wave of the Healthy Ireland Survey, so we now have a valuable flow of up-to-date data and information about the health of the nation. This is a very valuable asset to help the Department of Health and our many Healthy Ireland partners to monitor the progress and impact of our collective work to improve health and wellbeing outcomes.”
Main findings:

Healthy Ireland Summary Report 2019



  • 17% are current smokers; down from 20% last year and 23% in 2015-16
  • 14% are daily smokers down from 17% last year
  • 40% of all who smoked in the last 12 months have attempted to quit
  • 73% of the population approve of plain packaging
  • 25% of smokers said that health warnings on tobacco packaging have made them more motivated to quit


  • 60% are overweight or obese
  • the proportion of men who are overweight or obese has declined from 70% in 2017 to 66% in 2019
  • however, among older age groups, men are more likely to be overweight or obese: only 34% of men aged between 25 and 34 have a normal weight, compared to 47% of women
  • 49% of those reported as overweight or obese are trying to lose weight

Physical activity

  • 46% are achieving the minimum level of physical activity recommended by the National Guidelines (being moderately active for at least 150 minutes a week)
  • 54% of men and 38% of women achieve this minimum level
  • time restrictions - due to work, study, or looking after family - are identified as the key barrier to increased activity

Caring responsibilities

  • 9% of participants provide regular unpaid personal help to a family member or friend with a long-term health problem or disability
  • 42% of carers report that they themselves have a long-standing illness or health problem
  • 41% of carers are also a parent of a child under 18


Notes to the Editor:

This is the fifth summary of the findings from the Healthy Ireland Survey and adds to the data collected in the previous surveys published from 2015 - 2017.

A representative sample of 7,413 people aged 15 and older living in Ireland were interviewed between September 2018 and September 2019. The survey gives an up-to-date picture of the health of the nation and reports on many lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, oral health and health services.

The data from Healthy Ireland Surveys are used to underpin policy development and implementation, to monitor, measure and evaluate progress in implementing various elements of the Healthy Ireland Framework, as well as to meet many international reporting obligations, including to the OECD, the EU and the WHO.

Spokespeople available on request. Please contact the Department of Health Press Office: press_office@health.gov.ie / 01 635 4477.

Further information at www.gov.ie/HealthyIreland.

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