4364.0.55.005 - Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12  
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Contents >> Exposure to tobacco smoke


The National Health Measures Survey (NHMS) included a test for cotinine as an objective measure of smoking status. The body produces cotinine in the process of breaking down, or metabolising, nicotine from tobacco smoke.1 Levels of cotinine are generally proportionate to the amount of tobacco exposure a person receives through smoking, or in some cases, through exposure to second hand smoke. However, cotinine levels only remain elevated for around 20 hours after exposure to tobacco smoke, therefore it can only provide a measure of short-term exposure.

    Data source and definitions

    Levels of cotinine were measured via a blood test. In the NHMS, cotinine levels of 140 nmol/L or greater indicate exposure to tobacco smoke.

The Australian Health Survey results for self-reported smoking show that 16.1% of Australians aged 18 years and over were current daily smokers in 2011–12.2

In the NHMS, the pattern for cotinine exposure was very similar to that for the self-reported smoking data for most age groups. Small differences were evident in the younger age groups, with people aged 18–24 years having slightly higher rates of cotinine exposure compared with their self-reported smoking status. However, the opposite was true for those aged 25–34 years, where the proportion of self-reported smokers was slightly higher than the proportion exposed to cotinine.

Overall, 87.0% of current smokers aged 18 years and over had cotinine levels indicating exposure to tobacco smoke, compared with only 5.7% of those who were ex-smokers and 0.3% of those who had never smoked.

Graph Image for Persons aged 15 years and over - Proportion exposed to cotinine and self-reported smoker status, 2011-12

For more information on cotinine, see Table 8 on the Downloads page of this publication.


1 Benowitz, NL, 1996, Cotinine as a Biomarker of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Exposure, Epidemiologic Reviews <http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/2/188.citation>, last accessed 02/07/2013. Back to top
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Jun 2013, Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011–2012, ABS cat. no 4364.0.55.003 <https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/E3E02505DCAF230CCA257B82001794EB?opendocument >, Last accessed 02/07/2013. Back to top

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