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Smoking status

Smoking rates among the 1,011 prison entrants during the 2015 NPHDC were high, with 74% being current smokers and almost all of these (93%, or 69% of all entrants) being daily smokers. In comparison, 13% had never smoked and 9% were ex-smokers. This does represent a decrease since the 2012 NPHDC, when 84% of prison entrants were current smokers. However, at least some of this decrease may be due to recently introduced smoking bans in prisons. Prison entrants, on average, smoked their first full cigarette at 14.1 years.  The youngest age at which they began smoking reported by several prisoners was 5, and the oldest was 40. 

A slightly higher proportion of male (69%) than female (66%) entrants were daily smokers. The declines in smoking rates over the last 20 years experienced in the general community are not reflected in the prison entrant population, whose smoking rates remain high. The proportion of entrants being daily smokers declined with age from a high of 73% of entrants aged 18–24 years, to a low of 56% of those aged at least 45 years. In addition to being less likely to be daily smokers, prison entrants aged 45 or older were also almost twice as likely as those in the youngest age group to have never smoked (19% compared with 10%).

Indigenous (82%) prison entrants were more likely than non-Indigenous (72%) entrants to be a current smoker. Non-Indigenous entrants were three times as likely as Indigenous entrants to be ex-smokers (12% compared with 4%).

Comparisons with the general community

Smoking rates among people entering prison are much higher than in the general community (Table 1). Of prison entrants aged 18–44, around three-quarters (68–78%) are daily smokers, compared with around half (43–52%) of Indigenous Australians and 1 in 5 (16–19%) of non-Indigenous people of the same age in the general community.

Striking differences are also found when looking at ex-smokers and those that never smoked. In the general community, the proportion of people who say they have never smoked is highest among younger people, suggesting that over time, fewer young people in the general population are trying and taking up smoking. However, among prison entrants, the opposite is true (Figure 1). Similarly, with fewer people in the general community now taking up and then quitting smoking, the proportion of ex-smokers rises from around 13% of 18–24 year olds to 23–29% of 35–44 year olds. However, among prison entrants, the proportions of ex-smokers show no clear trends.

Table 1: Prison entrants and general community aged 18–44, smoking status and Indigenous status, 2015 (per cent)
Smoking status Indigenous status General community
18–24
General community
25–34
General community
35–44
Prison entrants
18–24
Prison entrants
25–34
Prison entrants
35–44
Daily Indigenous 43 52 48 74 78 68
Non-Indigenous 16 19 18 73 68 69
Current but not daily Indigenous 3 3 2 10 7 9
Non-Indigenous 3 4 2 6 4 7
Ex-smoker Indigenous 13 18 23 5 2 3
Non-Indigenous 14 24 29 10 13 8
Never smoked Indigenous 42 28 27 8 11 12
Non-Indigenous 68 54 51 11 13 13

Sources: Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, 2012–13. ABS cat no. 4727.0.55.006. Canberra: ABS, Table 10.3; Entrants form 2015 NPHDC

Figure 1: Prison entrants and general community, never smoked, by Indigenous status, 2015

Split Horizontal bar chart showing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous; on the left general community (per cent) (0 to 80) on the x axis; on the right prison entrants (per cent) (0 to 80) on the x axis; 18-24, 25-34,35-44 on the y axis..

Sources: Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, 2012–13. ABS cat no. 4727.0.55.006. Canberra: ABS, Table 10.3; Entrants form 2015 NPHDC.

Smoking bans in prisons

Smoking bans are being implemented in prisons across Australia—in Northern Territory from July 2013, Queensland from May 2014, Tasmania from February 2015, Victoria from July 2015, New South Wales from August 2015. A trial is planned for South Australia in March 2016. The prison in Australian Capital Territory is not expected to be smoke-free before July 2016.

Of the 55 prisons from which dischargee data were received, 16 had total smoking bans in place at the time of the data collection. Dischargees in the data collection were almost evenly distributed between prisons with and without a smoking ban. 

Changes to smoking habits while in prison

Table 2 compares the smoking status of dischargees in prisons with and without smoking bans. The results clearly show a reduction in smoking in prisons with a total smoking ban.

There are several possible reasons why prisoners in prisons with complete smoking bans may still report that they are current smokers. Firstly, there may be some who had been in prison for a very short time and still consider themselves to be smokers from their smoking status prior to prison. Secondly, there may be opportunities to smoke even in prisons with complete bans, such as at court appearances, or during work or other release times. Finally, smoking bans can be difficult to enforce.

Table 2: Prison dischargees, smoking status, smoking ban status of prison, 2015
Smoking status Prison bans smoking
Number
Prison bans smoking
Per cent
Prison allows smoking
Number
Prison allows smoking
Per cent
Total prison dischargees
Number
Total prison dischargees
Per cent
Smoker on entry 161 72 159 75 320 73
Current smoker 40 18 157 74 197 45
Smokes more now 8 4 34 16 42 10
Smokes less now 125 56 46 22 171 39
Total 224 51 213 49 437 100

Notes

  1. Excludes New South Wales, as data were not provided for dischargees.
  2. Totals include prison dischargees whose smoking status was unknown.
  3.  Rows in each column will not sum to the total because individual dischargees may appear in more than one row.

Source: Discharge form, 2015 NPHDC.

Most dischargees reported that smoking cessation assistance was available in their prison (Figure 2). Those in prisons allowing smoking were more likely (72%) than those in prisons with smoking bans (62%) to report that assistance was available. Those dischargees in prisons with smoking bans were also more likely to use available assistance to quit than those in prisons allowing smoking (26% compared with 10%).

Figure 2: Prison dischargees, use of quit smoking assistance in prison, 2015

Vertical bar chart showing (prison bans smoking, prison allows smoking); quit smoking assistance in prison (assistance available, assistance used) on the x axis; per cent ( 0 to 80) on the y axis.

Note: Excludes New South Wales, as data were not provided for dischargees.

Source: Dischargee form, NPHDC 2015.

The reduction in smoking in prisons in which smoking is banned may flow through to the community. Of those who smoked on entry to prison, dischargees from prisons with smoking bans were less likely to intend to smoke after release than those from prisons in which smoking is allowed (59% and 73% respectively) (Figure 3). Almost one-quarter (23%) of dischargees (who smoked on entry to prison) from prisons with a ban said they do not intend to smoke upon release, compared with 13% of those from prisons allowing smoking. One-in-ten dischargees from prisons allowing smoking were undecided, as were 15% of those being released from prisons with smoking bans.

Figure 3: Prison dischargees who smoked on entry to prison, smoking intentions on release, 2015

Vertical bar chart showing (prison bans smoking, prison allows smoking); smoking intention on release (intend to smoke, don't intend to smoke, might smoke) on the x axis; per cent ( 0 to 80) on the y axis.

Notes:

  1. Excludes New South Wales, as data were not provided for dischargees.
  2. Only includes dischargees who smoked on entry to prison

Source: Dischargee form, NPHDC 2015.

For more information see The health of Australia's prisoners 2015 (November 2015).