4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18  
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SMOKING

Tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia with smoking estimated to kill almost 19,000 Australians a year and responsible for 9.0% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2011[1]. It is associated with an increased risk of a wide range of health conditions, including; heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, renal disease, eye disease and respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

There have been a range of policies implemented since 1973 aimed at reducing smoking rates through measures such as taxation on tobacco products, restrictions on advertising, and the prohibition of smoking in certain locations[2].

Definitions

Smoker status refers to the frequency of smoking of tobacco, including manufactured (packet) cigarettes, roll-your-own cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but excluding chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes (and similar) and smoking of non-tobacco products. Respondents were asked to describe smoking status at the time of interview, categorised as: 
  • Current daily smoker - a respondent who reported at the time of interview that they regularly smoked one or more cigarettes, cigars or pipes per day;
  • Current smoker - Other - a respondent who reported at the time of interview that they smoked cigarettes, cigars or pipes, less frequently than daily;
  • Ex-smoker - a respondent who reported that they did not currently smoke, but had regularly smoked daily, or had smoked at least 100 cigarettes, or smoked pipes, cigars, etc at least 20 times in their lifetime; and
  • Never smoked - a respondent who reported they had never regularly smoked daily, and had smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and had smoked pipes, cigars, etc less than 20 times.

In 2017-18, the National Health Survey (NHS) collected data for the first time on the usual number of days smoked cigarettes in a week, usual number of cigarettes smoked per day and usual number of cigarettes smoked per week.

HOW MANY ADULTS SMOKED IN 2017-18?

In 2017-18, just under one in seven (13.8%) or 2.6 million adults were daily smokers, while a further 1.4% of people also reported smoking, they did so on a less than daily basis.

Since 1995, the proportion of adults who are daily smokers has decreased from 23.8% to 13.8% in 2017-18. Over recent years however, the daily smoking rate remained relatively similar (14.5% in 2014-15).

Despite this, the proportion of adults who have never smoked has increased from 49.4% in 2007-08 to 52.6% in 2014-15 and 55.7% in 2017-18.

In 2017-18, young adults aged 18-24 years were more likely to have never smoked than any other age group with more than two thirds of men (69.6%) and four in five women (81.5%) in this age group reporting they have never smoked. These proportions have increased from 64.0% and 64.9% respectively since 2007-08.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion by current smoker status, 2001 to 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


Men continued to be more likely than women to smoke daily (16.5% compared to 11.1%). Rates for both men and women have declined since 1995 when 27.3% of men and 20.3% of women smoked daily. However, these rates have remained similar since 2014-15 (16.9% for men and 12.1% for women).

For men aged 18-24 years in 2017-18, around one in six (17.5%) smoked daily; this proportion remained relatively constant until age 55-64 years where the prevalence fell to 16.5%, before eventually dropping to 5.1% at age 75 years and over. For women, one in ten (10.4%) 18-24 year olds smoked daily increasing to 14.7% for 45-54 year olds, before falling to 7.5% for 65-74 year olds and 3.7% for women 75 years and over.

Since 1995, smoking rates have declined across all age groups, with the younger age groups (18-34 year olds) experiencing the largest falls. In 1995, one third (33.5%) of men and over a quarter (28.1%) of women aged 18-34 years smoked daily, declining to 18.4% and 10.5% respectively in 2017-18.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion of current daily smokers, 1995 to 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


HOW MANY CIGARETTES DO ADULTS SMOKE?

On average, current daily smokers smoked 12.3 cigarettes per day, which is just over half a pack (a pack is considered to be 20 cigarettes). On average, men smoked more than women (13.0 cigarettes compared with 11.4). Just over one in three (37.2%) people smoked less than 10 cigarettes per day, while almost a quarter (23.5%) smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day (considered a pack-a-day smoker).

Men who smoked daily were more likely to smoke 20 or more cigarettes per day than women (27.6% compared with 18.1%). The number of cigarettes smoked per day increased with age, with 30.0% of adult smokers over the age of 45 smoking over 20 cigarettes per day compared with 17.8% of adults between the ages of 18-44 years.

HOW MANY YOUNG PEOPLE WERE SMOKING?

In 2017-18, 1.9% of 15-17 years olds were daily smokers. A further 0.7% smoked less often than daily, while 1.7% were ex-smokers and 95.3% reported that they had never smoked.

Some under-reporting of these young persons identifying as current smokers may have occurred due to social pressures, particularly in cases where other household members were present at the interview. 

WHICH AUSTRALIANS WERE MORE LIKELY TO SMOKE?

Rates of smoking were higher in areas of most disadvantage with just over one fifth (21.7%) of adults living in areas of most disadvantage (first quintile) being current daily smokers, compared with 6.8% in the least disadvantaged areas (fifth quintile). This pattern has remained constant over the past decade.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion of current daily smokers by disadvantage(a), 2017-18

Footnote(s): (a) A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. See Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage in the Glossary.

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


HOW DID SMOKING PREVALENCE VARY BY STATE AND TERRITORY?

As in previous surveys, the Northern Territory had the highest rate of daily smokers (around one in five; 19.6%) compared with one in ten (10.6%) in Australian Capital Territory.

Since 1995, Northern Territory has experienced the largest fall in daily smoking prevalence across the states and territories, falling from 35.6% to 19.6%. All other states and territories have experienced similar declines in the proportion of daily smokers since 1995. Whilst there have been falls in smoking prevalence across all states and territories over the past two decades, the falls have been steady over recent times. Since 2014-15, Western Australia was the only state to observe a decline in current daily smokers from 14.3% to 11.8% in 2017-18.

In 2017-18, the Australian Capital Territory had the largest proportion of people who had never smoked (59.7%) in comparison to just under half (49.4%) in Northern Territory.

ENDNOTES

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia's health 2018 <https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/7c42913d-295f-4bc9-9c24-4e44eff4a04a/aihw-aus-221.pdf.aspx?inline=true>; last accessed 04/10/2018
2 Department of Health, Tobacco control timeline <http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-control-toc~timeline>; last accessed 04/10/2018