Youth smoking has fallen to an 8.2 per cent low, with many saying they can't afford the habit, according to a survey.

Key findings from the annual survey by anti-smoking group Ash indicate youth smoking rates have fallen across all ethnic groups, especially among Maori students, whose percentage of regular smokers dropped from 20.9 to 18.1 between 2010 and last year.

Ash has sampled about half of New Zealand's Year 10 smokers each year since 1999.

The Ash survey also revealed a significant rise in students who had never smoked, up from 64.3 per cent in 2010 to 70.4 per cent last year.


Associate Health Minister and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia expressed her delight at the results.

"It is an absolute success, one that I am proud to have worked towards."

Ash spokesman Michael Colhoun called the latest results "a major victory against smoking addiction for New Zealand".

He and Mrs Turia agree the results indicate a shift in the attitudes of young people towards smoking.

"It seems that smoking is no longer socially accepted as widely as it once was," Mr Colhoun said.

Despite the positive results, significant disparities remain between Maori and non-Maori, with the number of Maori students who smoke regularly more than three times that of non-Maori students.

Maori anti-smoking advocate Shane Bradbrook highlighted the need to continue increasing anti-tobacco initiatives, especially in light of the positive results revealed in the Ash survey.

"There is no doubt that the increase in tobacco taxes within the last 18 months contributed to the reduced usage amongst youths.

"Now, I would like to see a more Maori-specific approach to combating tobacco addiction amongst our youth," Mr Bradbrook said.

Ash director Ben Youdan put the drop in smoking levels across the board down to tax hikes.

"I think probably the biggest factor in terms of the reduction in youth smoking has been the recent tax increases," he said.

"The tax on cigarettes has increased by about 30 per cent over the last 18 months, and I think that's had a huge impact because young smokers are especially sensitive to how much cigarettes cost."

Society's perception around buying and smoking cigarettes was changing, with more communities and councils discussing smoke-free zones, Mr Youdan said.

"We're getting more and more quit attempts by adults as well.

"The environment in which these young people are growing up and the way in which they are being exposed to tobacco and the risk factors around smoking is also undergoing a change, and I think that's influence which is trickling down to their behaviour."

2011 regular smokers, Year 10:

Pakeha: 5.6 per cent (1.6 per cent decline)

Maori: 18.1 per cent (7.8 per cent decline)

Pacific: 10.7 per cent (1.5 per cent decline)

- Additional reporting: APNZ