The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) has shown that smoking among Victorian adults has continued to fall.
The daily smoking rate of adults in Victoria was 10.6% per cent, which is significantly lower than the 12.3% observed in 2016 and almost half the 19.9% observed in 2001.
In 2007, just over 50% of the Victorian population had never smoked (53.5%). In 2019, almost two-thirds of the population (63.8%) had never smoked, driven by a very large increase in numbers of female never-smokers.
But the decline in prevalence is not just driven by fewer Victorians taking up smoking. Compared to 2007, an additional 200,000 Victorians in 2019 are ex-smokers.
These reductions are the result of Australia’s long-term commitment to comprehensive, evidence- based tobacco control programs. The program has included: bans on tobacco advertising, the introduction of plain packaging and enlarged graphic health warnings for tobacco products, smokefree public places, increases in taxes on tobacco products, and, at least until 5-6 years ago, public awareness campaigns highlighting the dangers of smoking.
According to Mr Todd Harper, chief executive officer of Cancer Council Victoria, the reductions in smoking may well have been larger had there been better funding for public education campaigns. “We know exactly how often and how many advertisements smokers need to see to motivate them to quit, and across the country we’ve had nowhere near those evidence-based levels for years. This survey report shows that the percentage of Australian quitters nominating TV advertisements as prompting their attempts to quit, has more than halved, from 13.7% in 2010 to fewer than 6.5% in 2019.”
“Dr Sarah White, director Quit Victoria said that the number of Victorians who continue to smoke on an occasional basis is still of concern. While fewer Victorians are smoking daily in 2019, the number of occasional smokers has doubled, now sitting at about 200,000 compared with about 100,000 in 2007.
“There is no safe level of smoking” said Dr White. “Recent research suggests that even smoking as few as 6 to 10 cigarettes a month had higher risks than never smokers of dying prematurely.”
Worryingly, the increase in the proportion of Victorian smokers who are using e-cigarettes while continuing to smoke has also increased with about 8.7% of smokers also using e-cigarettes in 2019 compared to 3.9% in 2016.
While the Australia-wide figures suggest that increases in the use of e-cigarettes has been most pronounced among young people, including teenagers.
According to Dr White, evidence of secondary school children illegally purchasing e-cigarettes online and through retail outlets is growing. “Enforcement of laws preventing teenagers from being able to buy tobacco and nicotine products need to be strengthened. Retailers breaking the law by selling cigarettes or e-cigarettes to teenagers or selling illicit tobacco to anyone should lose permission to sell products at all.”