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Tobacco smoking is a leading risk factor for chronic disease and death, including many types of cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease and is the major cause of cancer, accounting for about 20–30% of cancer cases (AIHW & AACR 2012). In Australia in 2004–05, about 15,000 deaths per year were attributable to smoking (Collins & Lapsley 2008).

Strategies to minimise the harm that tobacco smoking causes have been in place for a number of decades. The National Tobacco Strategy (NTS) 2012–2018 sets out a national framework to reduce tobacco-related harm in Australia, with the goal 'to improve the health of all Australians by reducing the prevalence of smoking and its associated health, social and economic costs, and the inequalities it causes'. (IGCD 2013). It is a policy framework for the Australian Government and state and territory governments to work together and in collaboration with non-government agencies to improve health and reduce the social and economic costs that tobacco use causes.

In this chapter, information is presented on: changes to smoking patterns over time; age and sex comparisons; use of tobacco products and unbranded tobacco; and environmental exposure to tobacco smoke. All data presented in this chapter is available through the online tobacco tables.

Please refer to Chapter 8 'Specific population groups' for information on tobacco use among: Indigenous people; pregnant women; people who identified as being homosexual/bisexual; people with mental health conditions; and state and territory results and other geographical breakdowns.

Key findings

  • Daily smoking among the general population declined between 2010 and 2013 and has almost halved since 1991 (from 24.3% in 1991 down to 12.8% in 2013).
  • People in their late-20s or in their 40s were most likely to smoke daily.
  • People under 50 were far less likely to smoke daily than they were 12 years ago; however, over the same period, there has been little change in the daily smoking rate among people aged 50 or older.
  • The average age at which young people aged 14–24 smoked their first cigarette has steadily rose since 2001, indicating a delay in uptake of smoking.
  • Smokers smoked fewer cigarettes per week in 2013 (96) compared to 2010 (111).
  • Dependent children were far less likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke inside the home in 2013 (3.7%) compared to 1995 (31%).
  • Only a minority of smokers currently smoke unbranded tobacco and the proportion has decreased since 2007 (from 6.1% to 3.6% in 2013).
  • The majority of smokers attempted to make a change to their smoking behaviour in the last year.
  • Smokers trying to quit or change their smoking behaviour tried mainly due to costs and concern for their health.
  • Across all adult age groups, about 1 in 2 smokers purchased their products from supermarkets. Older people were more likely to purchase their tobacco products from a tobacconist and younger adults were more likely to purchase from a petrol station.

Tobacco control

National, state, territory and local governments, together with national and international tobacco control organisations, are continually working on new ways to reduce the harms associated with smoking.

Australia has some of the strongest and most innovative legislation and tobacco control measures in the world. See Box 3.1 for measures at the national level and Box 3.2 for measures at the state and territory level.

Box 3.1: National tobacco control measures

At the national level, the comprehensive set of national tobacco control measures includes:

  • excise increases on tobacco
  • education programs and national campaigns
  • plain packaging of tobacco products
  • labelling tobacco product packaging with updated and larger graphic health warnings
  • prohibiting tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • providing support for smokers to quit including through subsidies for smoking cessation supports on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Box 3.2: State and territory tobacco control measures

At the state and territory level, measures include:

  • minimum age restrictions on purchase of tobacco products
  • retail display bans
  • bans on smoking in offices, bars, restaurants and other indoor public spaces, and increasingly in outdoor places particularly where children may be exposed to tobacco smoke
  • the banning of smoking in a car carrying children
  • extensive and continuing public education campaigns on the dangers of smoking
  • support for 'Quitlines' and other smoking cessation support services to help people quit.

Further information on tobacco control and national anti-smoking campaigns is available at
www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco and www.quitnow.gov.au.

Current tobacco use and trends

Tobacco smoking in Australia continues to decline. More specifically:

  • in 2013, 12.8% of people in Australia aged 14 or older were daily smokers, declining from 15.1% in 2010 (Figure 3.1)
  • one-quarter (24%) of the population were ex-smokers and this has remained fairly stable since 1998 when the proportion of ex-smokers first exceeded the proportion smoking daily
  • since 1991, the proportion of daily smokers has almost halved, and has declined to the lowest levels seen over the 22-year period. There has also been a corresponding rise in the proportion who have never smoked from 49% in 1991 to 60% in 2013
  • the number of people smoking daily in 2013 fell by approximately 200,000 people (2.7 million in 2010 down to 2.5 million in 2013).

Figure 3.1: Tobacco smoking status, people aged 14 or older, 1991–2013 (per cent)

The line graph shows that daily smoking decreased from 24.3% in 1991 to 12.8% in 2013. The proportion of ex-smokers rose from 21.4% to 24.0% and never smokers from 49.0% to 60.1% over the same period.
  1. Smoked at least 100 cigarettes (manufactured and/or roll-your-own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco in their life, and reports no longer smoking.
  2. Never smoked 100 cigarettes (manufactured and/or roll-your-own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco.

Source: Online Table 3.1.

Tobacco smoking by age and sex

The proportion of both males and females aged 14 or older who smoked daily declined between 2010 and 2013 (Online Table 3.2). As in previous years, females were less likely than males to have smoked, at any frequency, and were more likely to have never taken up smoking.

Figure 3.2 shows that in 2013:

  • far fewer young people were smokers compared with older age groups
  • only 3.4% of teenagers (aged 12–17) smoked tobacco daily; 95% had never smoked more than 100 cigarettes
  • the proportion smoking daily was highest among people aged 25–29 and 40–49 at 16.1% and 16.2% respectively
  • among males, those aged 40–49 were the most likely to smoke daily (17.9%); for females, those aged 25–29 were the most likely to smoke daily (15.0%; see Online Table 3.3)
  • the proportion of ex-smokers was highest among males aged 70 or older (47%)
  • females were more likely than males to have never taken up smoking, although the proportion of females aged 40–49 who had never smoked was similar to the proportion of males (54% and 53% respectively).

Figure 3.2: Tobacco smoking status, people aged 12 or older, by age, 2013 (per cent)

The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that people aged 12–17 had the lowest rates of daily smoking at 3.4% and the largest proportion that had never smoked more than 100 cigarettes at 94.7%. Daily smoking was highest for those aged 25–29 and 40–49 at about 16%. Ex-smoking increased with age to a maximum of 35% for those aged 60–69, falling to 33.4% for those aged 70 or older.
  1. Smoked at least 100 cigarettes (manufactured and/or roll–your–own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco in their life, and reported no longer smoking.
  2. Never smoked more than 100 cigarettes (manufactured and/or roll–your–own) or the equivalent amount of tobacco.

Note: Estimates of smoking prevalence in younger people (younger than 18) are limited due to low smoking prevalence and small sample sizes in this age group.

Source: Online Table 3.3.

Age comparisons over time

While there has been a steady decline in daily smoking over the past 12 years, there is a large variation in the decline by age. People aged 18–49 were far less likely to smoke daily than they were 12 years ago; however, the decline is less pronounced for older people with little change in daily smoking seen among people aged 60 or older. Figure 3.3 shows that:

  • the proportion of daily smokers aged 25–59 declined between 2010 and 2013
  • between 2010 and 2013, there appeared to be a slight rise in the proportion of people aged 12–17 and people aged 70 or older smoking daily, however this increase in daily smoking was not statistically significant and the trend for those aged 12–17 should be interpreted with caution.
  • across all age groups, the proportion of ex-smokers remained stable, except for people aged 50–59 among whom there was a significant increase between 2010 and 2013 (from 31% to 34%; see Online Table 3.4). This increase corresponds with the fall in daily smokers for this age group.
  • a range of factors continue to drive the decline in daily smoking including an ageing cohort of older daily smokers, a rise in younger people never taking up smoking and declines in the proportion of young people smoking daily.

Figure 3.3: Daily smokers, people aged 12 or older, by age, 2001 to 2013 (per cent)

The grouped vertical bar graph shows that daily smoking declined between 2001 and 2013 for those aged 12 to 59. Daily smoking remained relatively stable for those aged 60 or older.

Source: Online Table 3.4

Note: The 2001 survey did not include those aged 12–13; the 2001 total for people aged 12 or older is for people aged 14 or older.

Age first smoked

Most people first try smoking tobacco during adolescence. As people who begin smoking early are more likely to continue smoking, tobacco use among young people is a key predictor of adult smoking (Tyas & Pederson 1998). One of the objectives of the National Drug Strategy 2010–2015 is to prevent the uptake and delay the onset of drug use, including tobacco (MCDS 2011).

  • Results from the survey show that the average age at which young people aged 14–24 smoked their first full cigarette has steadily risen since 1995 from 14.2 to 15.9 in 2013 (Online Table 3.5), indicating a delay in uptake of smoking.

Number of cigarettes smoked

Progress towards quitting smoking often involves reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Similarly, the costs of cigarettes may also cause smokers to reduce their use. In 2013:

  • the average number of cigarettes smoked per week declined from 111 in 2010 to 96 cigarettes in 2013 (Figure 3.4)
  • the decrease in cigarettes smoked per week was significant for people aged 30–69
  • the largest fall was seen among people aged 40–49 who, on average, smoked 23 fewer cigarettes per week.

There was variation in the number of cigarettes smoked per week between age groups. Smokers aged 50–69 remained the most likely to smoke the largest number of cigarettes per week (about 120), 60% higher than those in their 20s (about 75).

A heavy smoker is considered to be someone who smokes 20 or more cigarettes per day. In 2013, 3 in 10 (33%) smokers were considered heavy smokers and heavy smoking was highest among people aged 50–69 with more than 4 in 10 (44%) smoking 20 or more cigarettes per day (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4: Average number of cigarettes smoked per week, by age, 2010 and 2013

The grouped vertical bar graph shows that the average number of cigarettes smoked by a smoker in a week declined between 2010 and 2013 for all age groups. It also shows the proportion of smokers that smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day was highest among people aged 60–69 at 44% and lowest among people aged 25–29 at 22%.

Source: Online tables 3.7 and 3.8.

Product types

Tobacco smokers choose to smoke a variety of tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos. In 2013:

  • the vast majority of smokers aged 14 or older (89%) smoked manufactured cigarettes and 1 in 3 (33%) smoked roll-your-own (Online Table 3.9)
  • about 1 in 10 had smoked cigarillos (10.4%) and cigars (8.1%) (Online Table 3.9).

The 2013 survey was the first time that respondents were asked about their use of battery operated electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs or electronic nicotine delivery systems. Electronic cigarettes are devices for creating aerosols which contain nicotine and/or flavouring agents, the aerosol then being inhaled. The visual, physio-sensory and behavioural aspects of electronic cigarettes simulate the act of tobacco smoking.

In 2013:

  • 1 in 7 (14.8%) smokers aged 14 or older had used battery-operated electronic cigarettes in the last 12 months (Online Table 3.10)
  • younger smokers were more likely to have used an e-cigarette in the last 12 months than older smokers (27% for smokers aged 18–24 compared with 7.2% for those aged 60–69)
  • male smokers aged 14 or older were generally more likely than females to use
    e-cigarettes except among those aged 50–59 where 13.5% of female smokers had used this product compared with 6.7% of male smokers.

Exposure to second-hand smoke

The effects of passive smoking are a focus of concern, particularly for children who may be exposed to tobacco smoke. Such exposure increases the risk of a range of health problems in children, including chest infections, ear infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (Dunn et al. 2008).

Results from the survey show that parents and guardians are choosing to reduce their children's exposure to smoke at home. More specifically:

  • between 1995 and 2013, the proportion of households with dependent children where someone smoked inside the home fell from 31% to just 3.7% (Figure 3.5).
  • fewer people were smoking regularly at home which reflects the continuing decline in the prevalence of smoking, and for the first time, there was also a drop in the proportion of people smoking outside the home (from 29% in 2010 to 26% in 2013).

Figure 3.5: Proportion of households with children aged 15 and under where an adult reports smoking, 1995 to 2013 (per cent)

The line graph shows that the proportion of households with children where someone regularly smokes inside the home declined from 31.3% in 1995 to 3.7% in 2013. The proportion where someone only smokes outside rose from 16.7% to 26.2%. The proportion where no one in the home regularly smokes increased from 52.0% to 70.1%.

Source: Online Table 3.11.

Illicit tobacco

Illicit tobacco includes both unbranded tobacco and branded tobacco products on which no excise, customs duty or Goods and Services Tax (GST) was paid.

Unbranded illicit tobacco

Unbranded tobacco (commonly known as chop-chop) is finely cut, unprocessed loose tobacco that has been grown, distributed and sold without government intervention or taxation (ANAO 2002). The proportion of smokers aged 14 or older who were aware of unbranded tobacco declined between 2007 and 2013, from 48% to 34%, and the proportion who have smoked unbranded tobacco in their lifetime also fell from 27% to 16.5% in 2013 (Figure 3.6). The majority of the lifetime users of unbranded tobacco no longer smoke it with only 3.6% smoking unbranded loose tobacco at the time of the 2013 survey, declining from 6.1% in 2007. As a proportion of those aware of unbranded tobacco, there was no change in current use with 10.7% currently smoking unbranded tobacco, compared with 10.6% in 2010 and 12.7% in 2007.

Figure 3.6: Use of unbranded loose tobacco, people aged 14 or older, 2007 to 2013 (per cent)

The grouped vertical bar graph shows that fewer smokers were aware of unbranded tobacco and smoked unbranded tobacco currently or in their lifetime in 2013 than in 2007. Of those aware of unbranded tobacco, fewer currently smoked it or had smoked it in their lifetime.

Note: The survey questions relating to unbranded loose tobacco were modified in 2010 and only asked respondents about awareness and use of unbranded loose tobacco whereas in 2007 and 2013 respondents were asked about awareness and use of unbranded loose tobacco and unbranded cigarettes. This should be taken into account when comparing the 2010 results with the 2007 and 2013 results.

Source: Online Table 3.12.

Illicit branded tobacco

Illicit branded tobacco is commonly defined as tobacco products (mostly cigarettes) that are smuggled into Australia without payment of the applicable customs duty. It should be noted that it may be easier for consumers to report whether they smoke 'unbranded' tobacco (refer previous section), but they may not necessarily know whether the branded tobacco that they have seen or purchased is actually illicit (Scollo et. al. 2014).

In relation to illicit branded tobacco, the 2013 survey asked whether, in the last 3 months, respondents had seen or purchased any packs of cigarettes or tobacco without plain brown packaging and graphic health warnings. While not being definitive characteristics of illicit tobacco, the absence of the required Australian health warnings on the tobacco product packaging, and packaging that does not comply with Australia's plain packaging legislation, could be an indication that the product is illicit.

Findings from 2013 showed that:

  • fewer than 1 in 5 (18.5%) smokers have seen tobacco products without plain packaging in the last 3 months (Online Table 3.13)
  • of those who had seen these products only half (1 in 10 overall) had purchased these products and just under half again (1 in 20 overall) bought 15 or more packets.

Changes to smoking behaviour

A wide variety of factors can influence a decision to change or reduce tobacco smoking including legislative, educational and economic factors. In 2013, more than 1 in 3 smokers reduced the amount of tobacco they smoked in a day and 1 in 5 had successfully given up for at least a month before the survey.

Other 2013 findings show:

  • 3 in 10 smokers tried to quit but did not succeed (Online Table 3.14)
  • 1 in 4 did not attempt to make any changes to their smoking behaviour in the previous 12 months.

Smokers who smoked fewer than 20 cigarettes per day were more likely to succeed at making changes to their smoking behaviour while heavy smokers were more likely to attempt changes without success (Figure 3.7).

Figure 3.7: Changes to smoking behaviour, smokers(a) aged 14 or older, by tobacco smoking intensity, 2013 (per cent)

 The grouped horizontal bar graph shows that heavy smokers, that is people who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day, were more likely to have tried to give up or reduce the amount of tobacco smoked in a day unsuccessfully while non-heavy smokers were more likely to have done these things successfully.
  1. Smoke daily, weekly or less than weekly.
  2. Smokes 20 or more cigarettes a day.
  3. Smokes less than 20 cigarettes a day.

Source: Online Table 3.15.

Motivators for change to behaviour

When looking at broad reasons for changes to smoking behaviour, the main reasons smokers attempted to quit or change their smoking behaviour in 2013 were because smoking was costing too much money or it was affecting people's health (Online Table 3.16). More smokers nominated cost as a factor in 2013 (47% compared with 36% in 2007) and this is now the reason most frequently reported. When looking at more specific reasons, the most common motivations for trying to quit smoking in 2013 were similar to 2010, except for:

  • 'wanting to get fit'—a higher proportion nominated this as a reason for changing their smoking behaviour in 2013 (from 25% in 2010 to 34% in 2013)
  • 'health warnings on tobacco packets'—proportion nominating this reason declined from 15.2% in 2010 to 11.1% in 2013)
  • smoking restrictions in 'public areas' and 'workplaces'—the proportion nominating these reasons fell between 2010 and 2013 (from 11.2% to 8.0% and 7.0% to 4.4% respectively)

Most smokers were motivated to change their behaviour for health reasons (Online Table 3.16); however, the type of health reason varied by age with younger people being more motivated by fitness, and older people more likely to be influenced by advice from their doctor (Online Table 3.17).

Where people buy cigarettes and tobacco products

The vast majority of adult smokers (18 and over) bought cigarettes at shops/retailers (Online Table 3.18). As there are legal restrictions on the sale of tobacco products to minors, those aged 12–17 were far less likely to regularly buy cigarettes at shops, and more likely to obtain them from a friend, acquaintance or relative.

The majority of adult smokers purchased their tobacco products from major supermarkets (52%), followed by other retail outlets (such as the local convenience store or petrol station) and tobacconists (21% and 18% respectively).

  • Across all adult age groups, smokers were most likely to purchase their tobacco product from a major supermarket chain (about 1 in 2).
  • Older people (aged 60 or older) were more likely to purchase tobacco from a tobacconist (than younger people), and younger adults were more likely to purchase from a petrol station.

graphic for cost

Cost and concern for health were the main reasons smokers tried to quit or cut down