1.4 Prevalence of smoking—young adults

Last updated: June 2017
Suggested citation: Greenhalgh, EM, Bayly, M, & Winstanley, MH. 1.4 Prevalence of smoking—young 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/1-4-prevalence-of-smoking-young-adults

Young adults are defined here as people between the age of 16 and 39 years.

1.4.1 Latest estimates of prevalence of smoking among young adults

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey examined smoking prevalence among young adults,1 as shown in Table 1.4.1 by age group and sex.

Table 1.4.1
Young adults: percentage of daily, regular and current smokers* 2016 — by age group, sex and total population (%)

* 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.

^ Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.1 

Source: National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 key findings, Table 2.1  

1.4.2 Trends in smoking prevalence among young adults

Table 1.4.2 shows smoking prevalence for men and women in three age groups spanning young adulthood to early middle age, between 1995 and 2013—see also Figure 1.5.1.

Examining the past 5 survey years—since 2001—the prevalence of smoking has significantly declined over time for both sexes within all age groups, and, over the passage of time, smoking rates have also converged across the age groups—see Table 1.4.2. Comparison of smoking prevalence in 2013 to each year, controlling for gender, showed that the proportion of regular smokers was significantly lower in 2013 among young adults within each age group compared to that observed in 2001–2010. Smoking prevalence was significantly lower among 18–24 year olds than among 25–29 year olds within each survey year. Prevalence among the youngest group was no different from 30–39 year olds in 2001 and 2004, before becoming significantly lower in 2007 and 2010, and then returning to similar levels in 2013.

Within each age group, generally consistent gender differences have been observed over time (examining 2001 to 2013), where among those aged 25–29 years and 30–39 years, men were at least marginally more likely to be regular smokers than women. Among 18–24 year olds, there were only significant differences in smoking prevalence between males and females in 2007 and 2010, when prevalence was significantly higher among men. In 2013, younger men were only marginally more likely to be regular smokers than women of the same age

Table 1.4.2
Young adults—percentage of regular* smokers† from 1995 to 2013, by age group and sex—ages 18–24, 25–29 and 30–39 years‡

* 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.  Further, 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.

It can be seen from Figure 1.5.1 in the following section that smoking prevalence among youngest adults (18–24 years) has changed over time in relation to prevalence among middle aged and older adults (those older than 40 years). In all survey years from 2001 to 2013, those aged 60+ have been significantly less likely to be smokers than 18–24 year olds, although the magnitude of difference between these groups has reduced over time. In 2001 and 2004, people aged 40–59 were also significantly less likely to smoke than 18–24 year olds, but since then, those aged 40–59 years were only marginally less likely to be regular smokers in 2007 and 2010, and in fact no different to those aged 18–24 years in 2013. Smoking patterns among the Australian population aged 40 and over are discussed further in section 1.5 (see Table 1.5.1 and Figure 1.5.1)

Recent news and research

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1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016 key findings data tables. Canberra: AIHW, 2017. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/data-sources/ndshs-2016/data/.

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