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This study aimed to determine trends in exposure to sunlight in the context of a melanoma prevention programme by monitoring the prevalence of sunburn and sun-related attitudes and behaviours. Telephone interviews were conducted in a baseline summer (December 1987 to February 1988) and two subsequent summers after the introduction of the SunSmart health promotion campaign. Interviewing a sample of 4,428 adult residents of the Australian city of Melbourne took place throughout summer on Monday evenings. Behavioural and sunburn data were reported for the previous weekend and relevant attitudinal data were collected. After adjusting for ambient ultraviolet radiation levels and temperature, survey month, age, sex and skin type, a significant reduction in sunburn was found. The crude proportion of sunburnt dropped from 11% to 10% to 7% over 3 years and the adjusted odds ratios (and 95% confidence intervals) were as follows: Year 1/Year 2; 0.75 (CI 0.57–0.99) and Year 1/Year 3; 0.59 (CI 0.43–0.81). Substantial attitudinal shifts occurred over the 3 years. Hat wearing increased significantly each year (19%, 26%, 29%), as did sunscreen use (12%, 18%, 21%). However, the trends in mean proportion of body surface area covered by clothing were less clear cut (0.67, 0.64, 0.71). It is concluded that melanoma risk factor exposure of populations can change fairly rapidly and that well-conducted health promotion campaigns can play a part in producing such change.