2.0 Introduction

Last updated: March 2021

Suggested citation:  Scollo M and Bayly M. 2.0 Introduction, Chapter 2: Trends in tobacco consumption in Tobacco in Australia: Facts & issues.  Greenhalgh E, Scollo M, and Winstanley M, Editors. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2021.  Available from: https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-2-consumption/2-0-introduction   

 

A great deal of data exists about consumption of tobacco in Australia. However, little of it is available in a consistent format covering extended periods of time, and much of it is difficult to interpret.

The Australian Tobacco Marketing Advisory Committee [i] compiled very useful data on tobacco production, processing, manufacturing and duty clearances in the reports it released annually from 1966, but these reports ceased when the organisation was wound up in 1994.1

Data have been collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for more than a century on the quantity and value of numerous commodities manufactured in factories around the country. Information about tobacco products manufactured in Australia was published in a variety of formats over the years.2 Data on the quantities of tobacco manufactured were included in reports published monthly until 1997,3 in quarterly reports until June 2004,4 and then electronically to 2006. 5 However this source of data by itself was of limited usefulness as an estimate of consumption because it included tobacco products bound not for home consumption but for export and excluded tobacco products imported to Australia for local consumption. Further, tobacco products were increasing produced offshore since the early 2000s, and since 2017 no tobacco products have been manufactured in Australia.6-9

Data on the amount (weight) of tobacco product on which excise and customs duty was paid were included in various yearbooks and other publications produced by the ABS (formerly the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics) over the years,10 including overseas trade bulletins published until 1977.11 [ii] Data on excise and customs duty payments on tobacco products between 1978–79 and 2002–03 have been requested and purchased by researchers on various occasions from the ABS International Trade Section.12,13   The ABS ceased compiling data on excise collections in 2003. Details about tobacco excise duty from that point for several years had to be requested from the Australian Taxation Office, which is less well equipped than the ABS to deal with requests from researchers (T Dickinson, letter to the author 2003). The Australian Taxation Office has published reports on revenue collected on tobacco products,14-18 but not so consistently on the amount of each type of tobacco product dutied. Taxpayer confidentiality provisions prevented the Australian Government from releasing detailed data on product type and clearances after 2011 when one of the three major manufacturing companies moved production offshore. (Having only two manufacturers paying excise duty in the country meant that release of total excise clearances would have informed each company of the competitor’s payments and therefore sales.) In spite of this restriction, data on monthly excise and customs clearances of tobacco products between the period July 2010 and December 2017 have been included in several documents that had been provided to an unstated applicant under Freedom of Information legislation (posted on the Australian Government Treasury website in its log of documents —see https://treasury.gov.au/the-department/accountability-reporting/foi-disclosure-log?page=3). 6-9

Apart from these official sources of data relevant to production and sales of tobacco products, it is also possible to generate estimates of tobacco consumption from data collected in various surveys.

Triennial household surveys conducted for Cancer Council Victoria [iii] between 1974 and 200119-27 asked smokers to estimate the number of packets of cigarettes they purchased each week, however the estimates generated in these surveys may have become less accurate over time as more and more smokers came to be using larger and larger pack sizes. Surveys conducted every three years to evaluate the impact of Australia's National Drug Strategy28-30, [iv] also attempted to assess consumption, but the questions asked varied somewhat over the years. In the early surveys (up to 1998) smokers were asked to nominate within specified ranges the number of cigarettes they smoked each day. These categories were too broad to enable meaningful analysis of trends over time. Later surveys31-37 provide what appear to be more reliable and consistent estimates asking:

  • daily cigarette smokers (roll-your-own and/or factory-made) how many they smoked each day
  • those who smoked at least once per week how many they smoked each week and
  • monthly smokers how many they smoked each month.

Additional surveys conducted for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing to evaluate the National Tobacco Campaign between 1997 and 200538-40 asked smokers to estimate numbers of cigarettes smoked each day. The National Tobacco Campaign surveys provided a wealth of useful data on reported consumption among various categories of smoker; however this survey provides information only on trends over a very short period. It should be noted that estimates of consumption by smokers based on self-report data tend to be significantly lower than those calculated using duty payments and other objective sources.

The ABS Household Expenditure Survey, first conducted in 198441 then every five42-44 and then45 six years,46-49 also provides several interesting snapshots of households with any expenditure on tobacco, generating data about the number and characteristics of such households and the average reported amounts spent. Quarterly and annual national accounts data provide estimates of the amount spent nationally on tobacco products.50 Because the price of tobacco products has increased greatly over time 51—see Chapter 13, Section 13.3—both household expenditure and national accounts data need to be carefully re-adjusted to take account of changing prices if they are to be used as estimates of consumption.

Tobacco sales data would be extremely valuable in monitoring trends in tobacco use and in evaluating the effectiveness of tobacco control interventions, however as at March 2021 companies are not required to provide such data to any Australian government. Retail sales data could provide estimates of tobacco consumption in Australia at national, regional and local levels and would provide an unbiased benchmark against which self-reported tobacco consumption survey data could be evaluated.52 From time to time, various business-sector organisations compile statistics concerning production and sales of cigarettes based on a mixture of official data and figures obtained from tobacco companies. International databases such as ERC Statistics International Plc's tobacco market reports53 and Euromonitor International's Global Market Information Database54 are interesting. However generally data are available only to those who subscribe to the data service. Little is documented about sources, assumptions and estimation techniques underlying figures included in these databases, so it is difficult to know whether data are being collected in a consistent way from year to year.

Figures on tobacco use over time are much more meaningful if adjusted for population numbers. Figures may be divided by the number of persons in the population over 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 years of age. Smoking rates in those under 15 years of age are generally very low in most countries. Consumption per person 15 years and over is the most common indicator of per capita consumption internationally.

All the data known to be publicly available relevant to estimating trends in tobacco consumption in Australia are set out in the tables and figures in this chapter. The limitations of each data set are discussed further in Section 2.6. Unfortunately, no single source provides a valid and reliable and consistently measured estimate of tobacco consumption over the entire 50-year period since health authorities first raised the alarm about the dangers of smoking. As discussed in Section 2.7 and Section 2.8, estimating consumption and making comparisons between countries and within countries over time is increasingly difficult as illicit tobacco sales vary widely between countries and over time. Notwithstanding these difficulties and limitations, the best estimates of recent consumption available at the time of writing are set out in Section 2.9. Factors thought to be driving reductions in consumption are set out in Section 2.10.

 

[i] Known until 1989 as the Australian Tobacco Board.

[ii] The data on amounts of tobacco cleared for excise and customs outlined in  Section 2.2 have been painstakingly compiled by the author referring to more than 100 individual historical publications (not available on-line) and 12 separate electronic data items (also not available on-line) for each of more than 20 years (further details included in the  reference list for Section 2.2).

[iii] Known until 1995 as the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria

[iv] It was launched after a Special Premiers' Conference in 1985 as the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse; its impact has been monitored in surveys in 1985 and three-yearly since 1988.

 

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References 

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