Teenage smoking and drinking down, while drug use rises among older people

Younger Australians' smoking and drinking habits have improved, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).  But when it comes to illicit drug use among older people, a more complex picture has emerged.

The report presents first results from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, including information on nearly 24,000 Australians' use of-and attitudes toward-tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

The report shows that the proportion of Australians who smoke daily nearly halved from 24% in 1991 to 13% in 2013, but showed little change from 2013 to 2016 (12%).  Meanwhile, the proportion of Australians who have never smoked continues to rise- from 60% in 2013 to 62% in 2016.

'In particular, fewer teenagers are taking up smoking-the proportion who have never smoked rose from 95% in 2013 to 98% in 2016,' said AIHW spokesperson Matthew James.

However, daily smoking rates for those aged 30 or older showed little or no improvement during this period.

The report also shows that the proportion of Australians drinking alcohol daily and weekly is falling, while less frequent drinking (less often than weekly) is becoming more common.

'As with smoking, a smaller proportion of teenagers are drinking alcohol, down from 28% in 2013 to 18% in 2016,' Mr James said.

Not only are fewer young people smoking and drinking, those who do are taking it up at older ages than in the past. In 1998, the average age at which young people were first trying alcohol and cigarettes was about 14 years, but by 2016, this was around 16.

The report shows that younger age groups (under 40) are also less likely to have recently used illicit drugs than in the past, while those over 40 are more likely. Between 2013 and 2016, the proportion of people in their 40s who had used illicit drugs in the last 12 months rose from 14% to 16%.

Overall, the most common recently used drugs were cannabis (10%), misuse of pharmaceuticals (5%), cocaine (3%), and ecstasy (2%).

Recent use of meth/amphetamines has fallen, but the report shows a continuing trend toward 'ice' (rather than other forms, such a powder). In 2016, 57% of meth/amphetamine users were mainly using ice, up from 22% in 2010.

'Other drugs, including ecstasy and cocaine, had a higher number of recent users than meth/amphetamines,' Mr James said.

'But when looking at the form of the drug and frequency of use, we found that those who mainly used ice did so much more frequently than ecstasy and cocaine users.'

While only 2% and 3% of ecstasy and cocaine users used weekly or more often, this was 32% for ice users.

Meth/amphetamine has overtaken excessive drinking of alcohol as the drug of most concern to Australians (40%).

'Correspondingly, Australians are, overall, less concerned about the impact of cannabis, heroin and cocaine than in the past,' Mr James said.

A more detailed report into the Survey's findings will be released later in 2017.

Canberra, 1 June 2017

Further information: Elizabeth Ingram, AIHW, Tel. 02 6249 5048, mob. 0431 871 337