Half the nation, including smokers, support completely banning cigarettes within 10 years, a study has found.

The 2008 Health and Lifestyles Survey compiled nationwide interviews from the Health Sponsorship Council of 1608 people, including 422 smokers, and has just been published in the NZ Medical Journal.

It found 49.8 per cent of people agreed cigarettes should no longer be sold in New Zealand in 10 years, 30.3 per cent disagreed and 19.9 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed. Of the smokers surveyed, 26.2 per cent agreed and 55.3 per cent disagreed. The study also showed public support for plain, unbranded cigarette packets and fewer tobacco retailers.

Pacific Islanders, in particular, showed strong support for the measures.

One of the study's authors, Dr George Thomson, from Otago University, Wellington, called on the Government to take action.

"There's now a need for politicians to embrace and act on the idea of a foreseeable and planned end to tobacco sales through a predicable timetable by 2020. The public wants more defined action to reduce smoking, and not a series of incremental steps."

The researchers said smoking was more affordable now than in 2001 and said the Government should increase tobacco taxes.

The average income had gone up but tobacco tax had not been raised above inflation.

"While the existing measures, such as smokefree legislation and improved quit support, are very important, if tobacco is becoming relatively more affordable, then these efforts are undermined and smoking is unlikely to decline, as price relative to income is a critical factor in the New Zealand market," researcher Professor Richard Edwards said.

About 21 per cent of New Zealanders smoked, causing more than 4000 deaths a year and $1.5 billion in health costs.

Most people supported raising the tobacco tax above inflation, the study found. Even most smokers supported the move, providing extra revenue was used to fund measures to reduce smoking. At present less than 5 per cent of the $1 billion tax revenue from cigarettes was put towards anti-smoking measures.

- NZPA