FEWER than one in five Irish people now smoke – marking a major decline in the habit over the decades.
A new survey by the Irish Cancer Society shows a national smoking prevalence of 19pc among men and women aged over 15 years.
However, although the fall below the 20pc mark is significant, progress in the battle to get people to stamp out the unhealthy habit remains slow.
At the time of the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004 around 24pc of people smoked and it was at around 31pc of the population in the late 1990s.
The latest Ipsos MRBI survey, involving 1,000 people, found that as many as 81pc of smokers say they want to quit and "more than half" hope to do so in the next three months.
The Irish Cancer Society, which has released the findings to mark the start of 'Quit Week', described the figures as encouraging in trying to achieve the aim of making Ireland "tobacco free" by 2025 when rates should be as low as 5pc.
"The main incentive for smokers planning to give up was concern for their future health (71pc)," said a spokeswoman.
"Expense was the second most-cited reason among smokers planning to give up, with 31pc saying the price of cigarettes was a factor in their decision to give up, showing the effectiveness of high price in encouraging smokers to quit."
She pointed out that 62pc of those surveyed said they would support more price hikes in the cost of cigarettes. "Four out of five smokers planning to give up cited family and friends as a key source of support.
"This was followed by support from a GP (69pc), pharmacists (67pc), the HSE (44pc) and community support services (31pc)."
Other findings show:
* Restriction of smoking in public places is considered the most effective means of encouraging someone to give up with price increases considered to be almost equally effective.
* Current smokers are significantly less likely than non-smokers to be in favour of price increases.
* The majority (64pc) are in favour of the introduction of the Government's proposal to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products – a move strongly opposed by cigarette companies.
Commenting on the results, Kevin O'Hagan, the health charity's health promotion manager said: "This research by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of the Irish Cancer Society shows that large numbers of current smokers are planning to quit in the near future. We know that quitting smoking can sometimes seem like a huge challenge but we want smokers to know that there is support available to them.
"Quitting is difficult, but with the right support around them, smokers have a greater chance of success."
The National Smokers' Quitline is 1800 201 203. Information and support is also available through www.quit.ie.