Tobacco smoking, alcohol and illicit drugs

Tobacco

Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of poor health and death in Australia (AIHW 2019a).

1 in 9

Australian women smoke daily

 The main data sources reporting on tobacco smoking in Australia are:

Although these surveys employ different methodologies, results for adult women were similar. Both the 2017–18 NHS and 2016 NDSHS showed that 1 in 9 (11.1%) women aged 18 or over smoked daily.  

Different age groups for girls were reported in each survey. Based on the:

  • 2017–18 NHS, 1.1% of girls aged 15–17 smoked daily (ABS 2018)
  • 2016 NDSHS, 3.2% of girls aged 14–19 smoked daily (AIHW 2017b).

Based on the NDSHS, there has been a long-term downward trend in tobacco smoking among Australian females aged 14 and over, decreasing from 17.9% in 2001 to 10.7% in 2016.

Based on the 2017–18 NHS, smoking rates among adult women (aged 18 years and over) varied by age group, peaking in middle age and then decreasing with age, with rates being lowest in women aged 75 years and over (3.7%) (ABS 2018).

Daily smoking varied for some population groups. After adjusting for differences in age structure (AIHW 2017a, ABS 2019a):

  • according to 2017–18 data, women living in Outer regional and remote areas were 1.6 times as likely to smoke daily as women in Major cities (15.9% and 9.9%, respectively)
  • women living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were almost 4 times as likely to smoke daily as women in the highest socioeconomic areas (19.3% and 5.2%, respectively) (Figure 9)
  • according to 2014–15 data, 39.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 18 and over smoked daily. After adjusting for age, Indigenous women were 3 times as likely to smoke daily as non-Indigenous women.

Figure 9: Proportion of women aged 18 and over who smoked daily, by socioeconomic area, 2017–18

This column chart shows that the proportion of females who are daily smokers increases as socioeconomic are decreased. Females in the lowest socioeconomic areas are 4 times as likely to smoke daily as females in the highest socioeconomic areas (19.3%25 and 5.2%25, respectively).

Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S8 for footnotes).

Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a variety of health problems, including liver and heart conditions, and poor mental health. It also contributes to accident and injury, such as motor vehicle accidents, physical violence and homicide.

1 in 3

Australian women are exceeding single occasion risky drinking guidelines

The main data sources reporting on alcohol consumption in Australia are the AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) and the ABS National Health Survey (NHS) Although these surveys use different methodologies, they show similar results.

Based on the most recent data from the ABS NHS, in 2017–18 (ABS 2018):

  • around 1 in 11 women (8.8%) aged 18 and over exceeded the lifetime risk guideline—consuming more than two standard drinks per day, on average
  • around 1 in 3 women (31%) exceeded the single occasion risk guideline— consuming more than four standard drinks on any one occasion (Figure 10).

Based on the NDSHS, there has been a long-term downward trend in alcohol consumption at risky levels among Australian females, with the proportion of females aged 14 and over who were exceeding the lifetime risk guideline decreasing from 11.9% in 2007 to 9.8% in 2016. The proportion of females drinking alcohol daily has also decreased, from 5.8% in 2004 to 4.2% in 2016 (AIHW 2017b).

Figure 10: Proportion of women aged 18 and over who exceeded and did not exceed lifetime and single occasion alcohol risk guidelines, 2017–18

These 2 pie charts show that 8.8%25 of women exceeded the lifetime alcohol risk guideline, and 90%25 did not. The proportion of women who exceeded the single occasion alcohol risk guideline was 31%25, and 68%25 did not.

Note: Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding. 
Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S9 for footnotes).

Lifetime risk

Exceeding the lifetime risk guideline varied by age group. According to 2017–18 data, 1 in 9 women (11%) aged 35–44 exceeded the lifetime alcohol risk guideline, compared with around 1 in 15 women (6.1%) aged 18–24 (Figure 11) (ABS 2019a).

The proportion of women exceeding the lifetime risk guideline varied for some population groups. After adjusting for differences in age structure (ABS 2013, ABS 2019a):

  • according to 2017–18 data, women living in Outer regional and remote areas were 1.5 times as likely to exceed this guideline as women in Major cities (12% and 8.2%, respectively)
  • women living in the highest socioeconomic areas were 1.4 times as likely to exceed this guideline as women in the lowest socioeconomic areas (9.9% and 6.9%, respectively)
  • In 2012–13, 1 in 10 (10%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women exceeded the lifetime risk guideline. There was no difference in the rates of exceeding this guideline between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women (about 10%).

Figure 11: Proportion of women aged 18 and over who exceeded the lifetime alcohol risk guideline, by age group (years), 2017–18

This column chart shows the proportion of women exceeding the lifetime alcohol risk guideline in middle-age and decreasing with increasing age thereafter, with the highest proportion for women aged 35–44 (10.7%25). The lowest proportions are for those aged 18–24 (6.1%25) and 75 years and over (6.1%25).

Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S9 for footnotes).

Single occasion risk

The proportion of women exceeding the single occasion risk guideline varied by age group. According to 2017–18 data, women aged 18–24 were 5 times as likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline as women aged 65–74 (55% and 11%, respectively) (Figure 12) (ABS 2019a).

Exceeding the single occasion guideline varied for some population groups. After adjusting for age (ABS 2019a):

  • women living in Outer regional and remote areas were 1.2 times as likely to exceed this guideline as women in Major cities (38% and 31%, respectively)
  • women living in the highest socioeconomic areas were 1.3 times as likely to exceed this guideline as women in the lowest socioeconomic areas (36% and 27%, respectively).

Figure 12: Proportion of women aged 18 and over who exceeded the single occasion alcohol risk guideline, by age group (years), 2017–18

This column chart shows that the proportion of women exceeding the single occasion guideline decreased with increasing age, with proportions ranging from 55%25 in the 18–24 age group to 3.6%25 in 75 years and over age group.

Chart: AIHW.
Source: ABS 2019a (see Table S9 for footnotes).

Illicit substances

Illicit substance use includes:

  • use of illegal drugs, such as cannabis and heroin
  • inappropriate use of prescription pharmaceuticals, such as sleeping pills
  • inappropriate use of other substances, such as naturally occurring hallucinogens.

Illicit use of drugs can cause death and disability and is a risk factor for many diseases. The effects of short and long-term illicit drug use can be severe and can lead to poisoning, heart damage, mental illness and other adverse outcomes (AIHW 2017b). Illicit drug use is also associated with risks to users' families and friends and to the community. It contributes to social and family disruptions, violence, and crime and community safety issues. The AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey reports on illicit drug use in Australia.

In 2016, around 3 in 20 Australian females aged 14 and over (13%) had used an illicit drug or substance in the previous 12 months (AIHW 2017b).

The pattern of illicit drug or substance use differs by age groups—1 in 4 women aged 20–29 (25%) had used illicit drugs or substances in the previous 12 months compared with 1 in 17 women aged 60 or over (5.9%).

For more information, see Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia.