Is smoking increasing in Australia?

The front page of the Australian claims Labor’s plain packaging laws have failed, as industry research shows a small increase in tobacco sales volume between 2012 and 2013. So, do the figures back up the Australian’s claim? Firstly, it’s worth examining the industry data presented in the Australian’s article. The key number they rely on is an increase in tobacco sales from 21.015bn in 2012 to 21.074bn in 2013*. Labor’s plain packaging laws were fully implemented in December 2012.

While this is a small 0.28% increase in sales year on year, they have failed to account for the increase in the population between 2012 and 2013. Adjusted for population, tobacco sales per person have actually continued to decrease from 920.4 in 2012 to 906.9 in 2013: Further, buried at the end of the article is another figure from British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre: “From 2008 to 2012 smoking incidence, or the number of people smoking, was declining at an average rate of 3.3% a year,” he said, pointing to Roy Morgan data. “Since plain packaging was introduced, that decline rate slowed to 1.4%.” So in their own article they have pointed out that the actual rate of smoking is continuing to decline. That is, the number of people smoking has decreased from 2012 to 2013.

Combined with the industry sales figures, all this suggests is that less people are smoking, but smokers may be buying slightly more tobacco. These figures are at odds with the latest information from the ABS. As Stephen Koukoulas points out, the latest ABS figures on household expenditure show as of March 2014, consumption of tobacco is the lowest it has ever been since 1959 when it first began to be recorded. Here’s a graph of said household expenditure, helpfully provided by Ketan Joshi. The ABS national health survey has not yet covered the plain packaging time period, but again, the long-term trend is downwards. Unfortunately we are unable to compare the methods of the ABS to the research body, InfoView, that provided the tobacco sales numbers as they’ve declined to release the full dataset. The Australian also cites figures from the NSW population health survey showing a rise in smoking between 2011 (14.7% of all adults) and 2013 (16.4% of all adults). However between 2012, when plain packaging was introduced, and 2013, the figures for smoking in NSW actually show a small decline from 17.1% down to 16.4%

Posted by: Nick Evershed BST theguardian.com

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