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.
, 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)