Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Australia's children, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 September 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Australia's children. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australia's children. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 February 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's children [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Sep. 29]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Australia's children, viewed 29 September 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
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25/02/22 – In the Data section, updated data related to smoking and drinking behaviour are presented in Data tables: Australia’s children 2022 - Health. The web report text was last updated in December 2019.
Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia and a leading risk factor for many chronic conditions such as cancer, respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease (AIHW 2018).
People who start smoking during their early adolescent years are more likely to smoke daily later in life (AIHW 2017b). In 2015, tobacco use was responsible for 9% of the total burden of disease for the entire population when taking into account illness and deaths (AIHW 2019).
Exposure to second-hand smoke (also known as passive smoking) can increase the risk of adverse child health outcomes such as causing or exacerbating asthma, acute chest infections or middle ear disease. Second-hand smoke can affect a child’s lung function, leading to greater vulnerability to other lung damage (Campbell et al. 2017).
Current Australian alcohol guidelines advise that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol, making abstaining from drinking the safest option for this age group (NHMRC 2009). Drinkers under the age of 15 are much more likely than older drinkers to engage in hazardous behaviour or delinquency behaviour because of their drinking which puts them at risk of injury (NHMRC 2009).
As with smoking, starting to drink at an early age is related to more frequent and drinking more heavily in adolescence, which can then lead to a greater risk of alcohol-related harms in adolescence and adulthood (NHMRC 2009). Risky alcohol consumption can also increase the likelihood of developing a disease or health disorder (AIHW 2018). In 2015, alcohol use was responsible for 5% of the total burden of disease for the population when taking into account illness and deaths (AIHW 2019).
Data on smoking and drinking by secondary school students comes from the Australian Secondary Schools’ Alcohol and Drug Survey (ASSAD). This triennial secondary school-based survey has been monitoring the use of tobacco and alcohol among Australian adolescent students since 1984, and the use of other substances since 1996. Data on teenagers not enrolled at school were not included in the school-based sample. The latest findings are from 2017.
Data on exposure to second-hand smoke is from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) which collects information on alcohol and tobacco consumption, and illicit drug use among those aged 12 or older in Australia. It also surveys people’s attitudes and perceptions relating to tobacco, alcohol and other drug use. The survey has been conducted every 2–3 years since 1985. The latest survey findings are from 2016.
Data on exposure to second-hand smoke for Indigenous children is available from the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey which collects information on a range of demographic, social, environmental and economic characteristics across all states and territories, and in Remote and Non-remote areas.
A current smoker, as defined in the ASSAD, is defined as having smoked tobacco at least once in the 7 days before the survey.
A single occasion risky drinker, for the purposes of this section, is an adolescent who drank 5 or more drinks on a single occasion. This is based on the NHMRC’s Guideline 2 (single occasion risk): to reduce the risks of injury on a single occasion of drinking, a healthy adult should drink no more than 4 standard drinks on any 1 occasion (NHMRC 2009).
According to data from ASSAD, in 2017, 2.2% of secondary school students aged 12–14 were current smokers, and rates were similar for boys (2.6%) and girls (1.8%). Smoking was more common among 14 year olds (3.6%) than 12 year olds (1.5%).
Data from the NDSHS indicates that in 2016, 2.8% of households with dependent children aged 14 and under had someone who smoked inside the house. Around one-quarter of these households (26%) had someone who only smoked outside the home, while the majority (almost three-quarters of households or 72%) had no-one at home who smoked regularly.
In 2017, 6.8% of secondary school students aged 12–14 had at least 1 drink on a single occasion in the last week and rates were similar for boys and girls (ASSAD data). Drinking was more common among 14 year olds (10.4%) compared with 12 year olds (4.2%).
In 2017, around 1% of secondary school students aged 12–14 engaged in single occasion risky drinking (that is, drank 5 or more standard drinks on 1 occasion in the past week), putting them at risk of injury. There was no statistically significant difference between rates of risky drinking in boys (1.2%) and girls (0.8%). Drinking at this level was again more common among 14 year olds (1.9%) compared with 12 year olds (0.2%).
Over 15 years (2002 to 2017), the proportion of secondary school students who smoked declined significantly (Figure 1). While 9% of secondary school students were smoking in 2002, in 2017 this had decreased 4-fold to 2%.
Chart: AIHW. Source: Guerin & White 2018b.
Data from the NDSHS indicates that children’s exposure to tobacco smoke at home significantly declined over the 21 years to 2016. The proportion of households with dependent children where someone smoked inside the home fell from 31% in 1995 to just 2.8% in 2016 (a significant decline from 3.7% in 2013) (Figure 2).
Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2017b.
Over the 15 years between 2002 and 2017, the proportion of secondary school students who had consumed at least 1 drink in the past week or engaged in single occasion risky drinking decreased significantly.
The proportion of children who had consumed at least 1 drink in the past week decreased more than 3-fold, from 24% in 2002 to 6.8% in 2017. The proportion of children drinking 5 or more drinks on 1 occasion in the past week also decreased, from 3.7% in 2002 to 1% in 2017.
The proportion of students aged 12–14 who were current smokers and lived in areas of greater socioeconomic disadvantage (lowest socioeconomic areas) was higher than the proportion who lived in areas of least disadvantage (highest areas) (2.9% and 1.4%, respectively). However, the difference was not statistically significant.
Chart: AIHW. Source Guerin & White 2018b
Children living in areas of greatest socioeconomic disadvantage (4.4%) were more likely exposed to second-hand smoke than those in areas of least disadvantage (0.8%). There was no statistically significant difference across remoteness areas for exposure to second-hand smoke in the home (Figure 5).
Data from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) 2014–15 shows that 13% (32,453) of Indigenous children aged 0–14 lived in households where someone smoked at home indoors. Note that NATSISS data are not directly comparable to NDSHS data (AIHW 2017a).
Chart: AIHW. Source: NDSHS 2016, unpublished data.
Students aged 12–14 living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (2.2%) were more likely to drink at risky levels than those in the highest areas (0.1%) (Figure 6).
In 2017, around 14% of children aged 12–15 had ever used an illicit substance (Guerin & White 2018a). Boys (15%) were more likely than girls (13%) to have ever used an illicit substance.
The proportions of students that had used any illicit substance in their lifetime or in the past month (including or excluding cannabis) were similar in 2011, 2014, and 2017 (Guerin & White 2018a).
Currently there are no directly comparable national data on the smoking and drinking behaviour of Indigenous children, or children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
For more information, see What’s missing in Health.
For more information on:
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2017: supplementary online tables. Cat. no. WEB 170. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2017b. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2018. Australia’s health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. Cat. no. AUS 221. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 3. Cat. no. BOD 4. Canberra: AIHW.
Campbell MA, Ford C & Winstanley MH 2017. Health effects of secondhand smoke for infants and children. In Scollo MM & Winstanley MH (eds). Tobacco in Australia: facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria. Viewed 3 May 2019.
Guerin N & White V 2018a. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & trends: Australian secondary students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter drugs, and illicit substances. Cancer Council Victoria.
Guerin N & White V 2018b. Key trends in tobacco and alcohol use among Australian secondary students aged 12–14: additional findings from ASSAD 1984–2017. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne.
NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2009. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: NHMRC. Viewed 28 February 2019.
For more information, see Methods.
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