Smoking and drinking rates plunge, but illicit drug impacts on the rise

Doug Hendrie

15/08/2018 2:40:03 PM

A new report shows Australians are smoking and drinking less, but stimulants are leading to a greater health burden.

Australian smoking rates are continuing to drop.
Australian smoking rates are continuing to drop.

Australians are smoking and drinking less than ever, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
However, smoking is still the leading cause of cancer and preventable death in Australia, despite the fact actual rates of smoking have almost halved in the last 25 years. 
The data comes from the AIHW’s ‘Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia’, which examines the health burden from the use of legal and illegal drugs in Australia.
Smoking accounts for 22% of attributable cancer burden, while smoking rates have fallen from 24.3% of the population aged 14 years and older in 1991 to 12.2% in 2016.
Millennial drug experimentation has fallen rapidly, with rates among 18–24 year-olds dropping from 37.1% in 2001 to 28.2% in 2016.
Similarly, smoking is plunging among young people, with the daily smoking rate halving between 2001 and 2016 for both young men (24.5% to 12.3%) and young women (23.5% to 10.8%). 
Young people are still engaging in risky drinking, but at lower rates. The rate fell from 13.5% of young men engaging in a single occasion of risky drinking in 2013 to 9.1% in 2016, with the rate among young women falling from 11.3% to 6.8% over the same period.
Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have dropped from 55% in 1994 to 45% 20 years later, while rates of alcohol consumption levels over lifetime risk guidelines of two standard drinks a day fell from 19% in 2008 to 15% in 2014–15.
Across all Australians, the proportion of people aged over 14 drinking more than the lifetime risk guideline fell from 18.2% in 2013 to 17.1% in 2016.
Annual Australian consumption of alcohol per capita is relatively stable at 9.7 litres in 2015–16, compared to 9.5 litres in 2014–15.

Cannabis is still the most commonly used illicit drug, with 10.4% of the population using it in 2016.
Deaths from methamphetamine were four times higher in 2016 than in 1999, rising from 0.4 deaths per 100,000 population to 1.6. But the numbers of people who use methamphetamine actually fell between 2013 and 2016, from 2.1% of the population to 1.4%.
Users of stimulants are increasingly reporting mental illness, with rates increasing significantly between 2013 and 2016 among users of methamphetamine (up from 29% to 42%), ecstasy (17.9% to 27%), and cocaine (17.4% to 25%).
Cocaine use has been rising steadily and is now at its highest point in the last 15 years, with 2.5% of people reporting using it in the previous year. 
Australians from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background are much more likely (82.6%) to report never smoking compared to Australians whose primary language at home is English (59.5%).
Similarly, people from CALD backgrounds are more likely to abstain from alcohol (49.4% compared to 18.9%) and drug use (54.2% compared to 82.3%).

illicit drugs preventive health smoking rates

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