The findings were announced by Lower Austria's provincial health councillor Maurice Androsch (SPÖ) and Dr. Reinhard Raml from the Institute for Empirical Social Studies (IFES), who helped to carry out the research.
They found that 31 percent of the 918 students interviewed by researchers were regular smokers and the average age for smoking the first cigarette was 12 for boys and 12-and-a-half for girls.
Despite the high numbers of young smokers in the province, more than 80 percent of those interviewed said smoking was “not sexy” and over 90 percent believe non-smoking support is important. A clear majority also want non-smoking venues and restaurants.
Eighty-one percent were aware of tobacco use being restricted to under 16-year-olds and the health problems associated with smoking, but said they were enticed to start smoking by curiosity and peer pressure, according to Raml.
Although smoking was referred to by some young people as “stupid”, and was recognised as addictive, Androsch said: “Nevertheless, we must also recognise that young people are beginning to smoke earlier and earlier.”
The findings were supported by the experience of health psychologist Alexandra Beroggio, who said that the smoking helpline 'Smoke Free Telephone' reported frequent desperate calls from young people wanting to give up smoking.
“Cigarettes are dangerous. Just a few tries of smoking is enough to trigger addictive behaviour,” says Beroggio.
Raml is now incorporating the results from the study into a tobacco prevention strategy for Lower Austria.
Smoking ban in Austria
Austria has one of the highest rates of smoking in Europe and is one of the last countries to enforce the European law banning smoking in all restaurants and bars.
After years of debate, politicians in Austria voting earlier this year to introduce a total smoking ban in restaurants and bars that would come into force in 2018.
Most restaurant and cafe owners are strongly opposed to a total ban as they say their businesses will suffer and complain that they invested millions of euros to create smoking and non-smoking areas.
Business owners who break the law will face a €2,000 fine and smokers caught smoking in restaurants, cafes and bars will be fined €100.