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09 Dec 2014

Australians are cutting down on their drinking and smoking, but almost half continue to consume alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs in quantities that put their health at risk.

While there is mounting evidence that tobacco control measures like bans on advertising and public health campaigns are working, and the proportion drinking to excess is shrinking, a comprehensive survey of drug use has found that a substantial minority continue to regularly engage in risky behaviour.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report: 2013, released late last month, found there was significant crossover between dangerous smoking, drinking and drug taking.

Almost half of all daily smokers reported drinking at risky levels, and a third admitted to using illicit drugs in the previous 12 months.

The close association between these behaviours was further underlined by the finding that 60 per cent of illicit drug users regularly drank to excess, and almost a third were daily smokers.

Overall, almost 11 per cent of those surveyed on their smoking, drinking and drug habits reported to have indulged in at least two or more of these risky behaviours, and 3 per cent said they engaged in all three.

The results add urgency to calls from the AMA for more to be done to curb the nation’s drinking and smoking habits.

Following the National Alcohol Summit it convened in October, the AMA said the Commonwealth needed to provide national leadership in tackling the nation’s drinking culture, including by tightening the regulation of alcohol advertising, severing the links between sport and alcohol sponsorship and upgrading consumer warnings around the dangers posed by excessive drinking and drinking while pregnant.

The AMA has also called on the Government to vigorously defend Australia’s ground-breaking tobacco plain packaging laws from legal challenges mounted by the tobacco industry, locally and in international forums.   

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said the results showed that risky smoking, drinking and drug taking behaviour was disproportionately high among certain groups, particularly the unemployed, Indigenous Australians and the disadvantaged.

And, contrary to the perceptions of some, those living in the country were more likely to be smoking, drinking to excess or taking illicit drugs than their city counterparts.

The survey found that the national decline in daily smoking rates was largely concentrated in the major cities, and no significant downturn was recorded in the rest of the country between 2010 and 2013.

This was reflected in the fact that more than a fifth of people living in the Northern Territory smoke daily, compared with less than 10 per cent of those living in the ACT.

Furthermore, people living in remote and very remote areas were twice as likely to have used methamphetamines last year as those living in the rest of the country.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 09 Dec 2014