Tobacco and illicit drug use down-national drug survey

The number of Australians who smoke tobacco daily has dropped over the last three years to 19.5% of the population aged 14 years or more, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This is one of the lowest rates of smoking in the developed world.

Over the same period there was a 23% drop in the proportion of people using illicit drugs such as marijuana, heroin, amphetamines and ecstasy, at some time in the last 12 months.

The report, 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: First Results, shows that daily smoking in Australia fell from 21.8% in 1998 to 19.5% in 2001, with 20-29-year-olds accounting for most of this decline.

Australians aged 14 years and over who smoke daily consume an average of 109 cigarettes a week

Head of the AIHW's Population Health and Data Information Services Unit, Mark Cooper-Stanbury, said that while the falls in tobacco use were very encouraging, levels could be reduced even further.

'It's a concern that less than 3% of people aged 14 and over think smoking is a problem in the community-and around 40% consider regular smoking by adults acceptable.

'In contrast, very few, less than 5% in most cases, approve of the regular use of illicit drugs. Australians are much more likely to link drug problems with heroin and cocaine use rather than tobacco or alcohol.

'One in every two Australian adults sees heroin as the big problem, although a relatively small 0.2% of the population uses heroin. Two in every five adults support regulated injecting rooms, while one in three support a trial of prescribed heroin.

'The falls in illicit drug use, driven mainly by falls in marijuana use, were from 22% in 1998 to 17% in 2001 using illicit drugs in the previous 12 months.

'What is particularly encouraging is the drop in the proportion of teenagers using these drugs in the previous 12 months, from 38% in 1998 down to 28% in 2001.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • More than 60% of young adults and 45% of teenagers have at least one drinking session per year that is risky or high risk for short-term harm.
  • There were no significant differences in use of amphetamines or ecstasy between the 1998 and 2001 surveys.
  • There are an estimated 7,000 teenage heroin users in Australia, and 14,500 users aged 20-29 years.

23 May 2002


Further information: Mark Cooper-Stanbury, 02 6289 7027, 0408 417 340
Dr Paul Magnus, 02 6244 1149, 0407 915 851
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, 02 6244 1032