Australians smoking less but still drinking

The decline in smoking rates over the past three decades means Australia now has one of the lowest smoking rates among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Mark Cooper-Stanbury, Head of the Institute's Population Health Unit, said that with smoking rates just over 17%, Australia ranked fourth lowest behind the United States, Sweden and Canada.

'But that means we can still do better,' he said.

The report, Statistics on drug use in Australia 2006, summarises the major statistical collections on drug-use in Australia. It contains information on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals and examines the effects of drugs on health and crime.

The report showed that while smoking rates have declined, drinking patterns have remained relatively unchanged over the last fifteen years and the use of various illicit drugs have either declined or remained stable.

In 2004, about 9% of Australians drank daily, 41% weekly and 34% drank less than weekly.

'In terms of per capita consumption, that means we each drank around 92 litres of beer, 20 litres of wine, and 1 litre of pure alcohol from spirits,' Mr Cooper-Stanbury said.

In terms of the risk of alcohol-related harm, about 35% of drinkers consumed alcohol at levels considered risky or high risk for short-term harm.

In 2001, high-risk patterns of alcohol consumption were closely linked to negative work-related behaviours and absenteeism.

In 2004, close to 40% of Australians aged 14 and over had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, with marijuana the most commonly used illicit drug. Almost 10% reported using methamphetamine at least once, and 3% had used it in the past 12 months.

In addition to statistics on drug, alcohol and tobacco use, the report also provides information on treatment services and substance use in various population groups, such as in youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, pregnant women, prisoners and employees.

Other key findings include:

  • A higher percentage of low birthweight babies were born to mothers with opioid (28%) or cannabis (29%) diagnoses compared with those without (10%).
  • Almost 60% of prisoners had a history of injecting drugs, and they were more likely to test positive to hepatitis C (56%) and hepatitis B (27%) than non-injecting drug users in prison.
  • In 2005, 46% of injecting drug users had overdosed at some point in their lives.
  • Around half (52%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were smokers.
  • In 2004-05, the Australian Government collected over $6.7 billion related to the sale of tobacco products, and $5.1 billion related to alcohol sales.

12 April 2007

Further information: Mark Cooper-Stanbury, AIHW, tel. 6244 1251

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.