Smoking rates are on the rise among young men. Picture: Supplied
Smoking rates are on the rise among young men. Picture: Supplied

Why smoking is on the rise among young men

YOUNG men are back on the darts.

Six years after drab plain packaging and massive tax hikes were introduced to curb tobacco use - we've failed to meet the target of reducing the daily smoking rate to 10 per cent.

And based on the most recent data, in 2016 daily smoking rates actually increased among men aged 25-29 up to 19.3 per cent from 17.3 per cent in 2013.

Smoking also increased among men aged 40-49.

While daily smoking rates initially plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent after the tough new measures, the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare count shows the overall rate fell only slightly to 12.2 per cent between 2013 and 2016.

When weekly smokers are added to the tally, 14 per cent of Australians were still smoking in 2016 and, more recent state-based data for 2017 and 2018 shows smoking rates still well above 10 per cent.

This is even though a series of punishing tax hikes means a packet of 30 cigarettes now costs $35.20, or more than $1 per stick.

Smoking rates are on the rise among young men. Picture: Supplied
Smoking rates are on the rise among young men. Picture: Supplied

Experts say the reason is there has been no good federally-funded mass media advertising campaigns warning of the dangers of smoking and encouraging people to quit since 2012, the tobacco industry has cut prices and people are shifting to cheaper roll your own.

Mr Rudd set the 10 per cent goal when he announced his plan for plain packaging and a series of massive hikes in tobacco taxes from 2012.

The good news is that since 2001, the proportion of 14-19-year-olds who had never smoked increased from 75 per cent to 94 per cent.

The proportion of people of all ages who reported never smoking continued to rise from 60 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2016

Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA), says the slowdown in the decline in smoking rates is "very worrying".

"Smoking remains the leading modifiable cause of death and illness in Australia and we are clearly losing the battle to contain it," he said.

Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn says the slowdown in the decline in smoking rates is “very worrying”.
Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn says the slowdown in the decline in smoking rates is “very worrying”.

Sarah White director of Quit Victoria blames the failure to reach Rudd's 10 per cent target on the fact there have been no mass media advertising campaigns warning of the dangers of smoking and encouraging people to quit since 2012.

"The tobacco companies have aggressively undermined price increases by introducing smaller pouches of tobacco and smaller cheaper cigarette packs with only 10 cigarettes," she said.

Social media influencers on Instagram who use cigarettes and Netflix series which show cigarette smoking are helping to promote the habit, she said.

Sydney University Public Health Professor Simon Chapman disputes claims that smoking is on the rise.

A snapshot of data from a Roy Morgan survey of 25,000 people taken every month for the last 25 years shows the smoking rate continues to fall, he said.

The reason men aged 25-29 are taking up smoking is that as they move into the age group where people are most likely to take up smoking they have never seen a publicly funded anti-tobacco advertising campaign on television, he said.

Professor Mendelsohn says Australia should embrace e-cigarettes or vaping to help people quit smoking or get nicotine in a safer manner.

Plain packaging initially resulted in a steep fall in the smoking rate. Picture: Supplied
Plain packaging initially resulted in a steep fall in the smoking rate. Picture: Supplied

 

However, Ms White says evidence-based reviews, including one from the CSIRO, do not support claims that vaping leads to smoking cessation.

If vaping companies are so confident the product does reduce smoking they should apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to have the products listed as a therapeutic good she said.

"If it seriously reduces smoking does anybody believe tobacco companies would be backing the product," Public Health Association chief Terry Slevin said of vaping.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said national tobacco campaign advertising has been placed on audience-specific and mainstream channels including television, radio, print, out-of-home and digital channels since 2012.

Quit Victoria says these were directed at indigenous Australians and were not run with the frequency required to deliver results.

The most recent evaluation of the national tobacco campaign which aired from May through to June 2018 on television, radio, print, out-of-home, social and digital channels, showed that of mainstream smokers who saw the advertising, 17 per cent of respondents stated that they had quit as a result of the campaign and 29 per cent had reduced the amount they smoked, he said.

We’ve failed to reach the goal of slashing smoking rates to 10 per cent. Picture: iStock
We’ve failed to reach the goal of slashing smoking rates to 10 per cent. Picture: iStock

Minister Hunt strongly supports the ban on the sale of nicotine that could be used in e-cigarettes.

"The overwhelming medical advice and evidence is that it's likely to lead to the uptake of smoking and we cannot support that," his spokeswoman said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catheirne King said Labor's leadership on tobacco control and its world-first plain packaging laws drove smoking rates to record lows.

"In more than five years in office, the Liberals have refused to spend a single dollar on anti-tobacco campaigns, which are a proven tool in reducing smoking rates," she said.

"The Liberals have also opened the door to nicotine e-cigarettes in two separate reviews - despite advice from the Government's own experts that vaping isn't safe."

The Coalition continues to accept political donations from Big Tobacco, she said.