There have been significant falls in the last three years in the number of people smoking tobacco and using marijuana, according to a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released today by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott.
The report, 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: First Results, launched by Mr Abbott at the Ourimbah Campus of the University of Newcastle, shows that there were declines in reported usage across a range of different types of licit and illicit drugs, but the most significant falls were for tobacco smoking and marijuana.
The proportion of the population aged 14 years and over who smoked daily declined from 19.5% to 17.4% between 2001 and 2004.
AIHW report author Amber Summerill said that the 17.4% daily smoking figure was the lowest ever reported in Australia, and among the lowest reported rates in the world.
'Between 1991 and 2004, daily tobacco smoking rates declined by almost 30%', Ms Summerill said. 'And in 2004, as in 2001 when the last survey was conducted, more than one quarter of Australians aged 14 years or older were ex-smokers who had quit smoking altogether.'
Marijuana use also dropped significantly between 2001 and 2004, from 12.9% to 11.3%.
'This represents roughly 180,000 fewer recent marijuana users in that time period, and this reduction was significant across most age groups', Ms Summerill said.
People aged in their twenties were most likely to be marijuana/cannabis users, and almost 1 in 5 teenagers had used marijuana/cannabis in the last 12 months.
The 2004 survey was the eighth and largest ever of a series which began in 1985. Just under 30,000 Australians aged 12 years and over responded to questions about their knowledge of and attitudes towards drugs, their drug consumption histories and related behaviours.
Between 2001 and 2004 there was a decline in the proportion of population who had used an illicit drug in the past 12 months, from 16.9% to 15.3%.
'This equates to 150,000 fewer recent illicit drug users in general for the time period,' says Ms Summerill. 'Interestingly, we also saw an increase in the average age at which new users first tried illicit drugs from 18.6 years in 2001 to 19.4 years of age in 2004.'
Drugs that respondents said they most associated with a drug 'problem' were heroin (39.4%), marijuana/cannabis (29.2%) and alcohol (10.0%).
The report also showed falling support for the legalisation of cannabis between 2001 and 2004 (from 29.1% down to 27.0 %), and rising support for banning smoking in workplaces (from 81.1% up to 82.3%) and pubs/clubs (from 60.8% up to 68.1%).
Other findings from the survey included:
o There were declines in reported steroid use (0.2% in 2001 to less than 0.1% in 2004), cocaine use (1.3% to 1.0%), and hallucinogen use (1.1% to 0.7%).
o Increases were reported in recent ecstasy use (2.9% in 2001 to 3.4% in 2004)
o Almost two in five people who used an illicit drug in the past month reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.
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