1.3 Prevalence of smoking—adults

Last updated: November 2015
Suggested citation: Greenhalgh, EM, Bayly, M, & Winstanley, MH. 1.3 Prevalence of smoking—adults. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2015. Available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-1-prevalence/1-3-prevalence-of-smoking-adults

1.3.1 Latest estimates of smoking prevalence

Recent data on  prevalence of smoking in Australia can be found in the latest report of the National Drug Strategy Household Survey published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare1 and the National Health Survey, published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.2

National Drug Strategy Household Survey

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey most commonly refers to daily smoking rates among those 14 years and over. However, the detailed report also includes figures for those 18 years and over who smoke daily, at least weekly and less than weekly. These figures are reproduced in Table 1.3.1.

Table 1.3.1
Prevalence of daily, regular and current smokers* 2013—Australians 14+ and 18+

 

14+

18+

Males

Daily

14

15

Weekly

2

2

Total regular smokers (daily plus weekly)

16

17

Less than weekly

2

2

Total current smokers (daily, weekly, less than weekly)

18

19

Ex-smokers†

26

28

Never smokers‡

56

53

Females

Daily

11

12

Weekly

1

1

Total regular smokers (daily plus weekly)

12

13

Less than weekly

1

1

Total current smokers (daily, weekly, less than weekly)

13

14

Ex-smokers†

22

24

Never smokers‡

64

63

Persons (males and females)

Daily

13

13

Weekly

1

1

Total regular smokers (daily plus weekly)

14

15

Less than weekly

2

2

Total current smokers (daily, weekly, less than weekly)

16

16

Ex-smokers†

24

26

Never smokers‡

60

58

* Includes persons smoking any combination of cigarettes (factor-made and roll-your-own), pipes or cigars

Smoked more than 100 cigarettes (manufactured or roll-your own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco in their life but reports no longer smoking.

Never smoked more than 100 cigarettes (manufactured or roll-your own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco.

Source: National Drug Strategy Household Survey 20103, Table 3.3

In shorthand speech, the 'prevalence of smoking among adults in Australia' could be cited simply as 14.7%.

National Health Survey

The Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Health Survey also provides data on smoking prevalence.2 The prevalence of daily smoking for Australians 18 plus in the 2011–12 survey was 16.1%, and 15.6% among people 15 plus. This compares to 14.2% for Australians 14 plus in the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.1

1.3.2 Historical trends in smoking prevalence

Measurements of the prevalence of smoking in Australia first became available in 1945. Limited survey data4 are available for the years between then and 1974, when the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (now Cancer Council Victoria) conducted its first national survey.5,6 These early data show that in around the middle of the last century, a clear majority of males aged 16 and over were smokers, compared to about one-quarter of females (Table 1.3.2). In the following decades smoking among men declined, probably in response to the initial publicity regarding the health effects of smoking, which first emerged in the 1950s and early 1960s.7-10 Women have always had a lower prevalence of smoking than men, but smoking among women continued to increase in the 1970s.

Table 1.3.2
Percentage of current smokers* in Australia, 1945–1976

Year

Male (%)

Female
(%)

1945

72

26

1964

58

28

1969

45

28

1974

45

30

1976

43

33

* Includes persons describing themselves as 'current smokers' smoking any combination of cigarettes, pipes or cigars. Age range for 1945, 1964 and 1969 not specified. Data for 1974 and 1976 are for people aged 16 and over

Sources: Woodward,4 Gray and Hill 5,6

The findings of the early studies from Cancer Council Victoria are broadly confirmed by those of a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertaken in 1977, which found that 36% of the adult population (aged 18 and over) were smokers: 43% of men and 29% of women.11

Table 1.3.3 shows the proportion of smokers in the population aged 18 and over from 1980 to 1998. Taking into account the ageing of the population and other demographic trends over that period by standardising this data to the 2001 population structure, the prevalence of smoking declined for both sexes over this period, the most dramatic drop occurring among males between 1983 and 1986, when prevalence decreased relatively by 15%. The differential in smoking rates between the sexes also continued to close (while remaining statistically significant across the years to 1998), largely due to greater numbers of men quitting smoking during the mid-to-late 1980s. However, the overall rate of decline seen during the 1980s did not continue into the 1990s, where the prevalence of smoking levelled at about 27%.

Table 1.3.3
Prevalence of regular* smoker†in Australia aged 18+, 1980–1998

Year

Male

Female

Total

1980

41

30

35

1983

40

29

35

1986

34

28

31

1989

30

27

28

1992

29

24

27

1995

28

24

26

1998

27

25

26

% difference 1980–2010

-14

-5

-9

Relative change 1980–2010

-34

-17

-26

* See footnote ii in Section 1.2 ffor explanatory notes regarding methodology used in attaining this data set. Note that figures represent those describing themselves as ‘current smokers’ with no frequency specified.

† Includes persons smoking any combination of cigarettes, pipes or cigars.

‡ All data weighted to 2001 census population data.

Source: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, analysis of data from surveys conducted by the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria.

After this relatively static period in the 1990s, the decline resumed for both sexes after 1998. Data from the National Drug Strategy household Survey shows that since 2001, there has been a statistically significant decline in the prevalence of smoking for men, women, and the total sample (see Table 1.3.4).

Table 1.3.4
Prevalence of regular* smoker†in Australia aged 18+, 1995–2013

Year

Male

Female

Total

1995

29

24

27

1998

29

24

27

2001

24

20

22

2004

22

18

20

2007

21

17

19

2010

19

16

18

2013

17

13

15

% difference 1995–2013

-12

-11

-12

Relative change 1995–2013

-41

-46

-44

* Includes those reporting that they smoke ‘daily’ or ‘at least weekly’.

† Includes persons smoking any combination of cigarettes, pipes or cigars.

‡ All data weighted to the Australian population appropriate for each survey year and may vary slightly from data presented in previous edition. Previous versions of this table used data from both the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria and National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), while this version uses only NDSHS data.

Source: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer analysis of National Drug Strategy Household Survey data from 1995 to 2013.

Hill and colleagues have suggested that the pattern of decline in smoking prevalence correlates with the level of tobacco control activities occurring at the time.12,13 The drop in male smoking rates seen in the early 1980s coincided with a period of new, well-funded media-led Quit campaigns12 and an upsurge in debate about tobacco control issues in the media, fuelled by the outspoken campaigning of groups such as the Australian Council on Smoking and Health and Action on Smoking and Health, and the widely publicised activities of the fringe groups MOP UP and BUGA UP.i Conversely, the steady prevalence rates in both sexes seen during the 1990s correspond with a lull in legislative activity concerning tobacco advertising and smoking restrictions, and also with a sharp reduction in per capita expenditure on public education campaigns.12

The subsequent downturn in smoking prevalence seen by the end of the 1990s—see figure 1.3.1—may be attributable to the combined effects of increased tobacco taxes,14 additional smokefree legislation, and the National Tobacco Campaign, a mass-media led program aimed at encouraging cessation, which was launched in June 199715 and ran over several subsequent years.16,17 (See also Chapter 10.)

Figure 1.3.1
Prevalence of regular* smokers in Australia aged 18+, for all Australians and by gender—1980–2013

* Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (ACCV) data includes those describing themselves as ‘current smokers’ with no frequency specified; National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) data includes those reporting that they smoke ‘daily’ or ‘at least weekly’.

† Includes persons smoking any combination of cigarettes, pipes or cigars.

‡ Anti-Cancer Council data weighted to 2001 census population data, standardised by age and sex; NDSHS survey data weighted to the Australian population appropriate for each survey year and is not standardised.

Source: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, analysis of data from surveys conducted by the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria from 1980–1998, and data from National Drug Strategy Household Surveys from 1995 to 2013.

Smoking remains a leading cause of death and disease in Australia, killing an estimated 15,531 people annually.18 Since about one in six men and about one in eight women still smoke,1 and given that two–thirds of these smokers can be expected to die because of their tobacco use if they do not quit,19 the sequelae of tobacco-caused death and disease will remain for decades to come. Mortality caused by tobacco use is discussed in Chapter 3.

i MOP UP and BUGA UP were acronyms for The Movement Opposed to the Promotion of Unhealthy Products and Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions respectively. Readers interested in the history and activities of these lobbying groups are referred in the first instance to: Chapman S. Civil disobedience and tobacco control: the case of BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions). Tobacco Control 1996;5:179–85. Available from http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/5/3/179

References

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: survey report. Drug statistics series no. 25, AIHW cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW, 2011. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712&libID=32212254712&tab=2

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.003 - Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-2012. 2013. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/E3E02505DCAF230CCA257B82001794EB?opendocument

3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report: 2013 - Supplementary tables. Canberra: AIHW, 2014. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129549469&tab=3

4. Woodward S. Trends in cigarette consumption in Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine, 1984; 14(4):405–7. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6596048

5. Gray N and Hill D. Patterns of tobacco smoking in Australia. Medical Journal of Australia, 1975; 2(22):819–22. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1207580

6. Gray N and Hill D. Patterns of tobacco smoking in Australia II. Medical Journal of Australia, 1977; 2(10):327–8. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/927253

7. Doll R and Hill A. A study of the aetiology of carcinoma of the lung. British Medical Journal, 1952; 2(4797):1271–86. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2022425/pdf/brmedj03472-0009.pdf

8. Wynder E and Graham E. Tobacco smoking as a possible etiologic factor in bronchogenic carcinoma. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1950; 143(4):329–36. Available from: http://www.tobacco.neu.edu/box/BOEKENBox/Journal%20Articles/1950%20Wynder%20Possible%20Etiolog%20Factor.pdf

9. Royal College of Physicians, Smoking and health: a report of the Royal College of Physicians on smoking in relation to cancer of the lung and other diseases. London: Pitman Medical Publishing Co Ltd; 1962.

10. US Department of Health and Education and Welfare. Smoking and health. Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. Rockville, Maryland: US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service, 1964. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/pre_1994/index.htm .

11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4380.0 Alcohol and tobacco consumption patterns, February 1977. Canberra: ABS, 1977.

12. Hill DJ, White VM, and Scollo MM. Smoking behaviours of Australian adults in 1995: trends and concerns. Medical Journal of Australia, 1998; 168(5):209–13. Available from: http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/mar2/hill/hill.html

13. White V, Hill D, Siahpush M, and Bobevski I. How has the prevalence of cigarette smoking changed among Australian adults? Trends in smoking prevalence between 1980 and 2001. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12(suppl. 2):ii67−ii74. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/12/suppl_2/ii67

14. Scollo M, Younie S, Wakefield M, Freeman J, and Icasiano F. Impact of tobacco tax reforms on tobacco prices and tobacco use in Australia. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12(suppl. 2):ii59–ii66. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_2/ii59

15. Wooldridge M. Preface, in Australia’s National Tobacco Campaign.  Evaluation Report Volume One.  Every cigarette is doing you damage.  Hassard K, Editor Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care; 1999.  Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/Publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-publicat-document-metadata-tobccamp.htm/$FILE/tobccamp_a.pdf

16. The Social Research Centre. National Tobacco Survey: smoking prevalence and consumption 1997−2005. Sydney: for the Research and Marketing Group, Business Group, Department of Health and Ageing, 2006. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/Content/9881124EAEC5A935CA25786000797D14/$File/ntspre05.pdf

17. Wakefield M, Coomber K, Durkin S, Scollo M, Bayly M, et al. Which policies reduce adult smoking prevalence? A time series analysis of Australian monthly adult smoking prevalence, 2001-2011. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, 2014; 92(413–22). Available from: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/6/13-118448/en/

18. Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, et al. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. AIHW cat. no. PHE 82.Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/title/10317

19. Banks E, Joshy G, Weber MF, Liu B, Grenfell R, et al. Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence. BMC Medicine, 2015; 13:38. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25857449

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