1.4 Prevalence of smoking—young adults

Last updated: November 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; 2017. 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 2016—see also Figure 1.5.1.

Examining the past six 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.  Among 18–24 year olds, the proportion of regular smokers was significantly lower in 2016 compared to that observed in 2001–2013 (controlling for gender). Among 25–29 and 30–39 year olds, there was no change between 2013 and 2016; however, prevalence was significantly lower in 2016 than 2001–2010 for both age groups. 

In 2016, smoking prevalence was significantly lower among 18–24 year olds than 25–29 and 30–39 year olds (controlling for gender). Among 25–29 and 30–39 year olds, men were more likely to be regular smokers than women; however there were no gender differences among 18–24 year olds. 

Table 1.4.2
Young adults: percentage of regular* smokers† from 2001 to 2016by age group and sex and total population ‡ (%)

* 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. 

Source: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer analysis of National Drug Strategy Household Survey data from 2001 to 20162.

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 2016, those aged 60+ have been significantly less likely to be smokers than 18–24 year olds. In the earlier survey years, people aged 40–59 were also significantly less likely to smoke than 18–24 year olds, but this pattern has switched over time. In 2016, 40–59 year olds were significantly more likely to smoke than 18–24 year olds (controlling for gender). 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).

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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: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/2016-ndshs-detailed/data

2. Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 2016 [computer file]. Canberra: Australian Data Archive, The Australian National University; 2017. 


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