Jan 8, 2014

Australians still smoke 21 billion cigarettes a year. Why?

A report has found the government's campaign against the cigarette may have stalled. Smoking rates have levelled off after years of falling. Will the new, ugly plain packs have an effect?

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Australia has implemented some of the world's boldest measures to reduce smoking. There's just one problem: they seem to have stopped working. A global study out today has found that after decades of declining, Australia's rate of smoking has plateaued, and even increased slightly among women. There are almost 3 million smokers in Australia and between them they puff on 21 billion -- yes, billion -- cigarettes a year. That's the most recent data available, and it goes up to the end of 2012. As to whether the world's first laws mandating the plain packaging of cigarettes have worked (they started in December 2012), those who have the data won't release it. It's a public policy secret. More on that later. Today's study, by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, found global smoking rates have greatly decreased since 1980 (there's some excellent interactive graphics in the report). But because there are so many more people than there were in 1980, more people smoke (there are now almost 1 billion). Smoking is very much in vogue in places like Indonesia and East Timor, where more than half the men smoke. Tobacco led to the deaths of 5.7 million people worldwide in 2012. Australia gets a pretty good rap in the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The rate of smoking among men in 2012 -- 18% -- is well below the global average of 31%, and has been one of the fastest declines in the world. Some 15% of Australian women smoke, compared with a global average of 6% (this gap reflects the cultural antipathy towards women smoking in many countries rather than a particular problem here). The rate of Australian women smoking has declined steadily over decades. The report synthesises various research papers into smoking in Australia, including Australian Bureau of Statistics data. It found the Australian most likely to smoke is a man in his 30s, and the average smoker has 7000 fags per annum. The big drop in people smoking is a medium-term success story, but since 2009 the rate of smoking in Australia has levelled off. This graph from the report shows the rate of change is now approaching zero:

Rate of change in the prevalence of smoking among Australians; women are pink, men green (standardised for age)

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16 thoughts on “Australians still smoke 21 billion cigarettes a year. Why?

  1. Cathy Alexander

    Steve777, if you go through to the data vis from this report – http://viz.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/tobacco/ – they have interesting stats on takeup of smoking among youngsters. They really drill down into the numbers.

    Just go to the country tab along the bottom, scroll through to Australia, and you’re in.

  2. Michael Dowling

    From my personal observation, a disproportionally greater number of new arrivals to Australia smoke than those who were born here or have been here for some time. The inflow of these migrants, and other visa holders, visitors may help to keep the smoking figures higher than they might otherwise be.

    If illegal cigarettes are being sold were is the concomitant police/legal offensive against it? Where are the crime stats to support the claim? Apart from an increase in excise, why would there be any incentive to import or buy illegal tobacco products? Plain packaging is not the cause surely. If that is the claimed reason, where is the evidence to support it?

    I do not agree that a rate of 15% smoking amongst women is not a problem here. Premature, underweight or stillborn births are higher/est with women smokers and their children are far more likely to suffer other respiratory, health and educational problems.

  3. Charles Kerr

    One of the problems with smoking is genetics. About 1/4 of the population has a genetic predisposition to replacing adrenaline with nicotien in their bloodstream. These are the hard core ¨Addicts¨ for whom giving up smoking may be nigh on impossible.

    So the best tactic would be to stop people starting young in the first place. Punishment for smoking in schools should be visited on the supplier, not the smoker.

  4. Mad Monk

    Gotta mull up with something now, dontchya?

  5. AR

    The truly amazing thing is that is smoking is all downside with SFA upside. AT least dope & booze can be fun but fags?
    BTW, cannabis resin was never smoked in the ME before the introduction of tobacco – it was drunk as sherbet or eaten as majoum. As on the subcontinent except that it was drunk as bhang (milk spiced with pepper) – only saddhus ever smoked sativa in chillums pre tobacco,

  6. Dogs breakfast

    Shit, who knows Cathy. I’m one of the smartest people I have ever met, yep, it’s embarassing, across so many types of intelligence, you name ’em and I’m right up there.

    But be buggered if I can give up the damn things,


    Still trying.


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