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Smoking is the single most important preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia [1]. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, of which over 70 cause cancer. When tobacco smoke is inhaled, these chemicals enter the lungs and spread through the body via the lymphatic system [2].

Smoking is linked to various cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and hip fractures. It is also linked to reproductive problems in women. The chemicals in tobacco also affect people exposed to the smoke, known as second-hand or passive smoking [2].

Box 1: How is tobacco smoking measured?

Tobacco smoking is the smoking of tobacco products, including packet cigarettes, roll-your-own cigarettes, cigars or pipes [3].

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011–12 Australian Health Survey (AHS) collected information on tobacco smoking from respondents aged 15 and over. People were asked whether they had ever smoked, whether they were ex-smokers or had never smoked, and about the frequency of their smoking and the quantity and type of tobacco smoked [4].

Since daily smoking presents the greatest health risk, the results presented here relate to adults aged 18 and over who reported being daily smokers at the time of the survey.

Who currently smokes?

Based on self-reported data from the 2011–12 AHS, nearly 1 in 6 people aged 18 and over (16%) smoke daily. Overall, a higher proportion of men (18%) smoke than women (14%).

The proportion of daily smokers is similar for people aged 18–54 (Figure 1). Among older people, daily smoking rates decrease with age and is at its lowest level at age 75 and over-4% for both men and women.

Figure 1: Prevalence of daily smoking in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 2011–12

Vertical bar chart showing (men, women); age group (years) (18-24 to 75plus) on the x axis; per cent (0 to 40) on the y axis.

Source: ABS 2013. Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011–12. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics (see source data).

Trends in daily smoking

In 1989-90, 26% of persons aged 18 and over smoked daily, which fell to 22% in 2001 and 16% in 2011–12 (age-standardised; Figure 2). Australia's suite of tobacco control measures, which includes stronger smoke-free laws, tobacco price increases and greater exposure to mass media campaigns since 2004, have played a substantial role in reducing smoking prevalence among adults [5].

Figure 2: Prevalence of daily smoking in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 1989 to 2011–12

Stacked line chart showing (men, women); year (2001 to 2011-12) on the x axis; per cent (0 to 35) on the y axis.

Note: Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.

Source: ABS 2013. Gender indicators, Australia, January 2013. ABS cat. no. 4125.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics; AIHW 2012. Risk factor trends: age patterns in key health risk factors over time. Cat. no. PHE 166. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (see source data).


The proportion of adults who smoke daily differs across geographic areas and socioeconomic groups (Figure 3). Adults in Outer regional and remote areas are 1.5 times as likely to be daily smokers as those in Major cities (23% compared with 15% respectively).

Adults living in the most disadvantaged areas are 2.6 times as likely to smoke daily as those living in the least disadvantaged areas (24% compared with 9%).

Figure 3: Prevalence of daily smoking in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, by selected population characteristics, 2011–12

Horizontal bar chart showing (men, women); per cent (0 to 40) on the x axis; population subgroup on the y axis.

Note: Q1–Q5 refers to area-based quintiles classified according to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas 2011 (SEIFA 2011), specifically the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD).

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: Australian Health Survey, Core Content—Risk Factors and Selected Health Conditions, 2011–12 (see source data).

International comparisons

Daily smoking rates in Australia are among the lowest in the world. In 2013 (or the nearest year), 13% of the population aged 15 and over in Australia smoked, compared to 20% in the United Kingdom, 15% in Canada and 14% in the United States. Australia's rate was well below the average across 34 OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) (20%) [6].

Source data


  1. AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ) 2012. Risk factors contributing to chronic disease. Cat. no. PHE 157. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2014. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 years of progress. A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2013. Australian Health Survey: updated results, 2011–12. ABS cat, no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  4. ABS. Australian Health Survey: users' guide, 2011–13. ABS cat. no. 4363.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  5. Wakefield MA, Coomber K, Durkin SJ, Scollo M, Bayly M, Spittal MJ et al. 2014. Time series analysis of the impact of tobacco control policies on smoking prevalence among Australian adults, 2001–2011. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 92:413-22.
  6. OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) 2015. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Publishing.

Further information

Further details on tobacco smoking are available from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Conducted every three years, the survey provides information on alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use in Australia, as well as community attitudes to drug use.