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How the cost of smoking is pushing Aussies to quit the habit

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Almost six in 10 Aussie smokers say the cost of smoking is motivating them to quit or cut back.

This is according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey for 2019, released earlier this month.

The survey, conducted every three years and includes 22,000 people aged 14 and above, also found that the nation's daily smoking rate has more than halved over the past 30 years.

the cost of smoking

"Smoking rates have more than halved since 1991 when almost one quarter of Australians were daily smokers," says institute spokesperson Dr Gabrielle Phillips.

She says in 2019, 58% of smokers said the cost of smoking was moving them to quit or cut back, up from 52% in 2016.

"The daily smoking rate was 12.2% in 2016 and 11% in 2019," says Phillips.

Australians in their 40s (15.8%) and 50s (15.9%) were most likely to smoke daily in 2019. Older people were also the most likely to drink alcohol daily in 2019, with the highest proportion seen among people aged over 70 (12.6%).

The institute says tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia. It's estimated that Aussies spent up to $21.6 billion on cigarettes and tobacco in 2019, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from May 2020.

A study from Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute says that in 2015 and 2016, the intangible economic cost of smoking (death, ill health and workplace costs) was estimated to be $117.7 billion.

The AIHW survey also shows more Australians were giving up alcohol in 2019. There was less non-medical use of painkillers and opioids but the use of some illicit drugs increased.

The institute found 14-29 year olds are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or consume illicit drugs than previous generations.

In 2019, two-thirds of 14-17 year olds had never consumed a full standard drink. This is more than double the proportion in 2001. And 22% of 20-29 year olds abstained from alcohol last year, up from 8.9% in 2001.

"The proportion of ex-drinkers rose from 7.6% to 8.9% between 2016 and 2019. There was also a rise in the number of people cutting back on alcohol, with 31% of people saying they had reduced the number of alcoholic drinks they consumed at any one time, up from 28% in 2016," says Phillips.

Alcohol does remain the most commonly used drug in Australia, with about three quarters of those surveyed reporting they consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months.

It's important to note the data predates the COVID-19 pandemic and Australia's horrific summer bushfires. There is AIHW and Australian National University research which shows that 27% of Australians who consume alcohol reported drinking less since the spread of COVID-19, while 20% reported drinking more.

In 2019, more than 43% of Australians aged 14 and over had illicitly used a drug at some point in their lifetime and 16.4% had used one in the past 12 months, says Phillips.

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Darren Snyder is the managing editor of Money magazine. He is a former editor of Financial Standard, where he had worked as a journalist, predominantly covering superannuation. Previously a mining and wine industry reporter at the Mudgee Guardian, Darren was awarded the Sir Harry Budd Memorial Award for Australian Country Journalism in 2012.
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