Roll-your-own on the rise, prompting reality check for smokers

Tuesday 2 May, 2017

Victorians are consuming fewer cigarettes overall but use of roll-your-own tobacco is increasing, prompting a warning for smokers not to be fooled about its devastating health impact.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said there was evidence that smokers using roll-your-own tobacco wrongly perceived it to be healthier and to have fewer harmful additives than factory-made cigarettes.

"Nothing could be further than the truth - smoking roll-your-own tobacco is just as harmful as smoking factory-made cigarettes, if not more so," Dr White said.

"Most of the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke come from burning the tobacco, and tobacco companies put similar additives into roll-your-own tobacco and factory-made cigarettes. In fact, there may well be more additives that keep loose tobacco from drying out.

"Roll-your-own smokers should not be under any illusion that their habit is any less dangerous than smoking traditional cigarettes. Smoking kills two out of three long-term users."

The warning comes as new data from the Victorian Smoking and Health Survey shows that:

  • 37% of Victorian smokers reported some current use of roll-your-own cigarettes in 2015, up from 26% in 1998 when the survey began.
  • Roll-your-own use was particularly common among young Victorians, with almost half (49%) of smokers aged 18-29 years reporting some use in 2015.
  • 98% of all current roll-your-own users reported using branded loose tobacco, which indicates extremely low use of illicit tobacco.
  • In 2015, a daily smoker smoked an average 13 cigarettes a day, down from 18 cigarettes a day in 1998. (This includes both factory-made and roll-your-own cigarettes.)

Professor Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University, is also concerned about increasingly aggressive marketing of roll-your-own products. He said tobacco companies were exploiting misconceptions about the health harms of roll-your-own tobacco with marketing that suggested it was "natural" or "organic".

Professor Daube said Big Tobacco was also using classic marketing techniques to try to under-cut the impact of price increases by producing new smaller pouches of roll-your-own tobacco to appeal to price-sensitive young adults, and using words such as "endless" and "abundant" on the label to imply value for money.

"Keeping cigarette prices high is one of the most effective ways of encouraging smokers to quit and stopping young people from taking up smoking, so it's hardly surprising that Big Tobacco is trying to position roll-your-own tobacco as the affordable alternative. They'll do anything to keep people hooked on their lethal product," Professor Daube said.

"We think it's timely for the Federal Government to investigate regulatory options to address Big Tobacco's tactics and to educate the public on the harm caused by roll-your-own tobacco."

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said the research highlighted the need to address new trends in smoking habits.

"We want smokers to understand that every single cigarette - whether you rolled it yourself or not - is doing you damage. This research will help us understand how smoking habits are changing so we can better target our interventions to reduce the harmful impact of smoking," she said.

Dr White said: "It is encouraging that smokers are smoking fewer cigarettes - but they need to know that all tobacco kills, whether manufactured products or roll-your-own".

The Victorian Smoking and Health Survey, conducted by Cancer Council Victoria, is an annual telephone survey of about 4000 Victorians which is designed to provide a representative sample of the state's population.