Smoking in Australia

In 2016, 15.6% of Australian adults or nearly 3 million people still smoked tobacco. After a steady decline in smoking in Australia for several decades, smoking rates have stalled and did not change significantly from 2013 -2016. 

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in Australia and is responsible for one in eight deaths. Two out of three smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Smoking is especially common in Indigenous communities where 45% of adults smoke. There are also high smoking rates in people with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and in lower socioeconomic groups. Smoking is the leading cause of health and financial inequality in disadvantaged populations. Eleven per cent of pregnant women smoke in Australia.

Smoking rates in teenagers are continuing to decline. Only 1.5% of 12-17 year-olds now smoke daily and 4.6% of 18-19 year-olds. Young people are starting to smoke later than in the past. The average age of the first full cigarette is now 16.3 years.

However, smoking rates are not declining for people aged 30 or older. This is not due to a lack of trying. Most smokers regret ever having started smoking and most try and fail repeatedly to quit. Forty per cent of Australian smokers try to quit each year, on average twice. Research suggests the average 40-year-old smoker who started in their teens will have made more than 20 failed quit attempts.

Many smokers are unable to quit smoking or give up nicotine completely and are turning to safer alternatives to smoking. In 2016, 1.2% of Australians, or 227,000 people were using an e-cigarette, mostly to help them quit or cut down smoking.

Australia has the highest cigarette prices in the world. For many smokers who are unable to quit, this is causing financial hardship. It is also triggering a thriving market in illicit tobacco. More smokers are switching to cheaper brands, roll-your-own tobacco or chop-chop (loose unbranded illicit tobacco) to save money.

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