Older Aussies still stubbornly smoking, report finds

Rates of smoking in the community have dropped to their lowest levels in history, data shows,but one group is still stubbornly hanging onto their cigarettes.

Less than 10 per cent of adults in Australia smoke daily, with the older age groups most likely to be the ones still puffing away, new research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2022–2023 surveyed more than 21,000 people aged 14 and over about their use of, and attitudes towards, tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and e-cigarettes (also known as ‘vapes’).

The survey showed the percentage of daily smokers in the population has gone down by two-thirds in the past 30 years, dropping from 24 per cent in 1991 to just 8.3 per cent (or approximately one in 12) in 2022-23.

Over the same period, the proportion of people who have never smoked jumped from 49 per cent in 199, to 65 per cent today.

Dr Gabrielle Phillips, AIHW spokesperson, says she’s happy to see smoking rates trending downwards.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia, so it’s encouraging that we continue to see a decrease in the use of tobacco by people in Australia,” she says. 

Based on the data, it appears that older people are much more likely to be daily smokers than their younger counterparts – and much less likely to be considering quitting.

Declines in daily smoking rates between this year’s survey and last year’s occurred across all age groups except for those aged 60 and above. In all age groups below 40, daily smoking was below 10 per cent of the population, but it was 10.4 per cent for those in the 60s and still 4.9 per cent for those aged 70 and above.

As a result, daily smokers are much older as a group in this year’s surveys than in previous years. In 2022-23, one in four (25 per cent) daily smokers is aged 60 or older, compared with one in seven (13.6 per cent) back in 2010.

Are older people moving to e-cigarettes?

The short answer is no, at least not in the same way the younger generations are. The AIHW found older age groups were the most likely to smoke tobacco in 2019 and 2022–2023, and the least likely group to use e-cigarettes.

Conversely, younger age groups were the most likely to use e-cigarettes and least likely to smoke tobacco.

“Vaping was most common among people aged 18–‍24, with current use increasing substantially between 2019 (5.3 per cent) and 2022–‍2023 (21 per cent),” says Dr Phillips.

“Half (49 per cent) of people aged 18–24 reported having tried an e-cigarette in their lifetime.”

Whether vaping is an effective way to ‘ease off’ cigarettes remains to be seen, but the older generation is not interested in vaping in the same way the youth are.

Why do older people smoke more?

The most obvious answer would be the environment older people have grown up in. Decades ago, people were aware that smoking was potentially unhealthy, but the full extent of the damage cigarette smoking can cause wasn’t fully understood.

Advertising, celebrity endorsements and major sponsorship deals involving tobacco brands were commonplace in Australia right up until the 1990s. Escaping the long arms of cigarette advertising at the time was almost impossible.

Contrast that with younger generations, who have been raised with the full dangers of smoking drummed into them from an early age. Anyone born after the mid-1980s has never been exposed to cigarette advertising except as a historical artefact.

Whereas previous generations were sold an image of smoking being something only the cool kids did, today’s youth are being taught the opposite – that smoking is for losers and outcasts.

Maybe this time, the kids have it right?

Are you a daily smoker? Have you ever tried to quit? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Five myths about quitting smoking

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *