National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

National Tobacco Strategy 2012-2018: Draft for consultation

Part Two: The size of the problem

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2.1 Smoking prevalence in the general population

Australia has made significant gains in reducing smoking prevalence over many years. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) shows that in 2010, 15.1 per cent of people in Australia aged 14 years or older were daily smokers, declining from 16.6 per cent in 2007 and from 24.3 per cent in 1991.1

Among adults 18 years and older, 17.4 per cent of the adult male population and 14.5 per cent of the adult female population continue to smoke on a daily basis.1

Around one-quarter of the population aged 14 years or older were ex-smokers and more than half had never smoked.1

The largest declines in daily smoking between 2007 and 2010 were among people in their early 20s to mid-40s, while the proportion of those aged 45 years or older smoking daily remained relatively stable or slightly increased between 2007 and 2010. However in 2010 almost 1 in 5 people in the 20–39 year age group continued to smoke daily.1

Figure 1. Prevalence of current daily smokers in Australia aged 18+, 1985 to 2010 — males and females.

Sources: National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Social Issues Survey 1985, 1998; National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Household Survey 1991, 1993; National Drug Strategy Household Survey 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010
N.B. Caution should be used in interpreting the decline as a range of data sources has been used and data within series may not be strictly comparable between years.


2.2 Smoking prevalence among disadvantaged populations

Smoking rates among people from low socioeconomic groups, those who are unemployed1, homeless9 or imprisoned10, and those with a mental illness11 or other drug or alcohol dependency10 are much higher than the general population.

In 2010, around a quarter of those in low socioeconomic groups (24.6 per cent), and 28.9 per cent of those in remote areas, reported smoking in the last 12 months.1 Smoking rates of more than 60 per cent have been reported among people with psychotic disorders.12 Smoking prevalence among prisoners is estimated at 85 per cent.13

2.3 Smoking prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) provide the most recent data on tobacco smoking. Current daily smoking rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are more than double those in the rest of the community - 45 per cent of Indigenous Australians over the age of 15 years smoke daily.3 Twenty per cent of Indigenous Australians over the age of 15 years are ex-smokers, and one-third (33 per cent) had never smoked.3 Among Indigenous adults aged 18 years and over, almost half are current smokers (47.7 per cent). 14

2.4 Smoking prevalence among culturally and linguistically diverse populations

The results of the NDSHS in 2010 show that those who mainly speak English at home are more likely to be current smokers (18.4%) compared to non English speakers (11.6%), and are also more likely to smoke more cigarettes per week (105) compared to non English speakers (65). However, the results must be interpreted with caution as the NDSHS survey was conducted in English and had an underrepresentation of non English speakers.1 Additionally, various studies have identified smoking rates as high as 50% in certain culturally and linguistically diverse populations, particularly amongst men (e.g. males of Arabic15, Chinese16, and Vietnamese backgrounds17).

2.5 Smoking Prevalence in States and Territories

Smoking prevalence varies somewhat across Australian States and Territories.1

Figure 2 Changes in prevalence of regular smoking, Australians aged 18+, 2001–2007, by each Australian State and Territory, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010

Source: Germain, D, Winstanley, M, Zacher, M and White V. Ch 1 Trends in smoking prevalence. Scollo, M and Winstanley M (eds) Facts and Issues: Tobacco in Australia, 2011 update in press Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne. To be available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-1-prevalence Note: Figures have been recalculated from Australians 14+ to Australians 18+ and they are weighted to 2001 Census population estimates.


In 2010, the ACT had the lowest daily smoking prevalence among jurisdictions (11 per cent of people aged 14 years and over were current smokers), while the Northern Territory (NT) had the highest (22.3 per cent).1

2.6 Smoking among secondary school students

The majority of smokers start smoking as teenagers18,19. National surveys of smoking among secondary school students have been conducted since 1984. The latest surveys confirm that smoking prevalence among teenagers fell dramatically in recent years.20 In 2008, the proportion of students who were current smokers (i.e. smoking in the last week) ranged between 2 per cent among 12-year-olds to 14 per cent among 17-year-olds.20

Students who had smoked on three or more days of the preceding week were defined as committed smokers. Only 4 per cent of all students had smoked on 3 or more days in the previous week with this proportion increasing to 8 per cent among 17-year-olds.20

Figure 3 Prevalence of Australian secondary school students who report smoking in last week, Australia 1984 to 2008: 12–15 year olds and 16 and 17 year olds

Source: White and Smith 2009 as it appears in Source: Germain, D, Winstanley, M, Zacher, M and White V. Ch 1 Trends in smoking prevalence. Scollo, M and Winstanley M (eds) Facts and Issues: Tobacco in Australia, 2011 update in press Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne. To be available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-1-prevalence

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