• Print

Of all the risk factors for ill health, tobacco smoking is responsible for the greatest burden on the health of Australians, accounting for 7.8% of the total burden of disease in 2003 (see The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 for more detail).

Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • peripheral vascular disease
  • numerous cancers including cancers of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, larynx, kidney, pancreas, bladder, stomach and cervix
  • and other diseases and conditions.

In 2003, an estimated 15,511 people died in Australia as a  result of tobacco smoking.

How many Australians smoke?

Results from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that, in 2013, for Australians aged 14 years and over:

  • 12.8 %(approximately 2.5 million people) of the Australian population) smoked daily.
  • A further 3.0% of people reported smoking occasionally (weekly but not daily or less than weekly) and so were also at risk of developing heart disease and other chronic conditions from smoking tobacco products.
  • More males than females smoked daily (14.5% and 11.2% respectively).
  • Among males, those aged 40-49 were most likely to smoke daily (17.9%); for females, those aged 25-29 were most likely to smoke daily (15.0%).
  • Only 3.4% of teenagers (aged 12-17) smoked tobacco daily; 95% had never smoked more than 100 cigarettes.

Smoking rates among Australian adults have declined steadily since the early 1970s. Since 1991, the proportion of daily smokers has almost halved (from 24.3% to 12.8% respectively).

Environmental tobacco smoke

Breathing in environmental tobacco smoke (otherwise known as passive smoking) consists of inhaling sidestream smoke directly from burning tobacco and exhaled mainstream smoke.

The following health problems have been associated with passive smoking:

  • asthma in children
  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • lower respiratory tract infections
  • lung cancer
  • coronary heart disease.

The effects of passive smoking are a focus of concern, particularly for children. Results from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that parents and guardians are choosing to reduce their children's exposure to tobacco smoke at home. Between 1995 and 2013, the proportion of households with dependent children where someone smoked inside the home fell from 31% to just 3.7%.

Further information

For more information see Chapter 5 of Australia's health 2014.

Alcohol and other drugs

The Cancer Council of Victoria