How Many Australians Smoke?

By Victoria Simpson on July 2 2020 in Society

Image credit: Vchal/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Vchal/Shutterstock.com
  • In 2017-2018, about 2.6 million adult Aussies were daily smokers, adding up to almost 14% of the population.
  • Adult Aussie men are more likely to smoke than women, and when they do, they light up more frequently.
  • Fewer Australians are now smoking daily than in the 1990s, but the habit still kills about 19,000 people in the country per year.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.1 billion people smoked tobacco in 2015. In many countries, the number of people who smoke has been decreasing in recent years, and this includes Australia. In 2017-2018, about 2.6 million adult Aussies were daily smokers, adding up to almost 14% of the population. In 1995, in contrast, this percentage sat at almost 24%, or a quarter of the entire adult population. 

Smoking tobacco has a long history in Australia, yet it is a shorter one than that found elsewhere. Tobacco has grown wild in the Americas for about 8000 years, and historians claim the plant was chewed and smoked as part of religious and cultural ceremonies by indigenous Americans starting about 2,000 years ago. In Australia, tobacco was first introduced to northern-dwelling Indigenous communities in the early 1700s. This happened when Indonesian fishermen came to visit these shores. Tobacco also came to the country via British settlers more prominently in 1788. The ancestors of these settlers would have learned about tobacco when Christopher Columbusa and his crew brought the plant with them from the Americas to Europe. Tobacco was first grown in Europe in Spain in 1531, and by the 1600s, smoking in one form or another was so prevalent that tobacco was used as a monetary standard for many years in Europe. It is easy to see, then, how many British and European settlers coming to Australia would have likely been smokers at that time. 

An elderly man smoking a cigarette in Sydney, Australia. Image credit: Rose Makin/Shutterstock.com

Today, smoking tobacco is one of the biggest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The habit kills thousands of people every year, and its use is associated with many illnesses in the country. Who  is still lighting up, and what is being done about it? Here is a brief view of the issue. 

Who Is Smoking And How Much

People who live in disadvantaged areas in Australia are more likely to smoke, reports indicate. Over one fifth (21.7%) of adults living in these areas were recorded as daily smokers in 2017-2018. In the least disadvantaged, or wealthiest, areas of the country, just 6.8% of people were smokers, in comparison. This type of pattern has been consistent for at least the past ten years. 

Thankfully, very few young Australians were recorded as daily smokers in 2017-2018. Just 1.9% of youth aged 15 to 17 years old said they smoked each day. A total of 95.3 % of people in this age group said they had never smoked, but this may not be an accurate percentage.  Authorities suspect that the number of non-smokers in this group could be inflated. Sometimes other household members were present when these youth were questioned about their habits, and they may lied to save face. Still, the numbers of youth actually smoking are likely quite low.  

Men vs Women

Men were recorded as smoking more than women in 2017-2018. In Australia, 16.5% of men said they smoked daily, compared with just 11.1% of women. Adults who smoked reported smoking about 12 cigarettes per day, which is a bit more than half a pack. Men reported smoking more times daily than women, lighting up about 13 cigarettes for every 11 women smoked, on average. One third of adults were found to smoke less than ten cigarettes a day, and a quarter smoked a pack or more daily. There were more men who were heavy smokers than women and iInterestingly, the number of cigarettes adults smoked went up as people grew older. 

Getting People To Quit

Image credit: Ra2Studio/Shutterstock.com

It is a daunting fact: tobacco kills up to half of its users. According to the World Health Organization, more than 8 million people around the world die each year at the hands of tobacco. In Australia, smoking is estimated to kill about 19,000 people each year, and is connected with 9% of all diseases in the country. Which ones? To date, tobacco use in Aussies is associated with many health conditions including an increased risk of suffering from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, eye disease, renal disease, as well as respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. 

Australians are not willing to sit back and watch their country men and women die, needlessly however. Since 1973, the government has implemented policies aimed at reducing the number of smokers in the country. These tactics have included things such as taxing tobacco products thereby raising their prices, restricting advertising, and prohibiting smoking in certain areas in the country. In addition to this, the government has made many resources available online and elsewhere to help people quit tobacco. These include tips to help individuals recognize their smoking triggers, and to identify why they smoke and how they might approach quitting. Health authorities suggest that you make a plan for quitting, write it down, and record how you are going to deal with inevitable cravings. For detailed information, check out the Australian Department of Health online

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