Tasmania continues to be home to the areas with the highest smoking rates in the nation. The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has published the latest Australia’s Health Tracker by Area: Smoking Rates Report ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Sunday.

Despite a reduction in its smoking rate, Bridgewater and Gagebrook in outer Hobart continues to have the highest smoking rate in Australia at 33%, with locals seven times more likely to smoke than people living in the beachside suburbs of Perth, where the smoking rate is lowest at just 4.5%.

The latest report highlights the stark wealth/poverty divide in the smoking rates, with Bridgewater and Gagebrook rated the poorest* in the country, while Australia’s wealthiest areas have the lowest smoking rates.

The highest rates of smoking in the state are at Bridgewater-Gagebrook, West Coast, Smithton, East Devonport, Burnie, Rokeby, Mornington-Warrane and Risdon Vale, all with rates of 25% or above.

The national smoking rate has stagnated over the past four years to 12.2%, however this report shows wealthy communities are seeing their smoking rates drop to record lows, while poorer communities continue to have stubbornly high rates.

Alarmingly, the smoking rate for people with a mental illness has risen 4.3% over the past four years to 27.7%. More than 27% of Indigenous Australians still smoke.

Professor Rosemary Calder, from the Mitchell Institute, and lead of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration, said that the high rates of smoking in many communities needed to be targeted with specific community-focused quit strategies.

“Australia has worked hard to be a world leader in cutting the consumption of tobacco and to reap the health rewards that come with that,” she said. “However, it has been seven years since a national mass media campaign to encourage and support people to quit. Those campaigns have contributed to steep declines in the smoking rates.

“With modern technology, we now have the ability to target Quit campaigns to people who need it most, and direct to their phones.

We need to invest in these campaigns and in working with local councils, their communities and health services to ensure appropriate resourcing to support people to quit.”

AMA Tasmania member, Clinical Director of Alcohol and Drug Service Tasmanian Health Service, Dr Adrian Reynolds, today responded, “Tasmania is investing in a range of important tobacco control measures and has made some progress in reducing smoking rates, but as these statistics show there is much more to be done, especially in helping Tasmanians living in areas of social disadvantage where smoking rates remain alarmingly high.”

He said much had been achieved by the Commonwealth government through tobacco taxation and plain packaging legislation. “We look forward to seeing what the Commonwealth can do next to prevent the uptake of smoking and support quitting attempts in Australian communities, including those identified to be of concern in Tasmania.”

The burden of disease from tobacco use in more remote parts of Tasmania as well as communities such as those highlighted in the Mitchell Institute study of Bridgewater and Gagebrook remain an ongoing and serious concern for AMA Tasmania, he stated.

Professor Calder said that the early evidence on the COVID-19 pandemic showing that people who smoked were at increased risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus, emphasised the urgent need to invest in efforts to support people to stop smoking.

“Nationally, we have recognised the need for and supported massive investment in keeping people safe and healthy from COVID-19,” Professor Calder said. “Reducing our smoking rates amongst disadvantaged groups and communities needs to be given priority in the national response to the COVID crisis.”

Evidence shows that people with pre-existing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and respiratory illness are also at higher risk of hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. Smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

Prior to COVID-19, smoking was already the leading cause of preventable death in Australia, killing an estimated 19,000 people a year.

The Australian Health Policy Collaboration brings together more than 60 of Australia’s leading health policy experts. They have proposed key policy actions needed to cut the smoking rate including:

  • increased funding for mass media campaigns to ensure they can effectively reach and influence people from disadvantage groups;
  • incorporating smoking cessation into routine health care;
  • ensuring smoke-free legislation is well implemented;
  • where appropriate, incorporating smoking cessation targets in government funding agreements.

Background

 There has been a substantial increase in communities with rates of smoking below 10% – from 82 in 2014-15 to 142 communities in 2017-18.

The data is from:

  • The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health 2018, released in 2020;
  • Australia’s Health Tracker 2019
  • Australia’s Health Tracker by Area 2016 which contains the earlier 2014-15 comparative data.

Local smoking rate data for areas across Australia are available here.

Tasmania’s smoking rates

AREAS WITH THE LOWEST SMOKING RATES

Location – Population Health Area State Number (2018) (2018) SES ranking
Mount Nelson/ Sandy Bay/ South Hobart TAS 1668 9.1 3rd in TAS
Kingston Beach/ Taroona area TAS 975 9.2 2nd in TAS
Cambridge/ South Arm TAS 932 9.9 1st in TAS
Bellerive/ Geilston Bay/ Howrah/ Lindisfarne area TAS 2144 10.6 5th in TAS

AREAS WITH THE HIGHEST SMOKING RATES

Location – Population Health Area State Number (2018) % (2018) SES ranking (bottom*)
Bridgewater – Gagebrook TAS 1733 33.9 1st in Aus*
West Coast/ Wilderness – west TAS 1048 32.6 9th in TAS
Smithton TAS 816 27.9
East Devonport TAS 935 26.7 2nd in TAS
 

*for an area where the population is large enough to draw an SES ranking.

 National smoking rates

AREAS WITH THE LOWEST SMOKING RATES

Location – Population Health Area State Number (2018) (2018) SES ranking
City Beach/ Floreat WA 501 4.5 2
St Ives/ Turramurra/ Wahroonga – Warrawee NSW 2,148 5.0 3
Cottesloe – Claremont – Central WA 1039 5.1 Top 40
Gordon – Killara/ Pymble NSW 1,558 5.2 9
Lindfield – Roseville NSW 942 5.2 4

AREAS WITH THE HIGHEST SMOKING RATES

Location – Population Health Area State Number (2018) % (2018) SES ranking (bottom*)
Bridgewater – Gagebrook TAS 1733 33.9 1
Corio – Norlane VIC 6820 33 12
West Coast/ Wilderness – west TAS 1048 32.6 bottom 50
South Hedland WA 2281 31.1 Average SES
Moree NSW 1863 30 Bottom 100

*for an area where the population is large enough to draw an SES ranking.

Vaping?

The new research reinforces the need to legalise vaping, the Tasmanian Small Business Council said today.

“It is clear that what we are doing now as a state to try and reduce smoking rates simply isn’t working well enough”, said CEO Robert Mallett. “In contrast, increasing evidence shows that vaping assists people to quit smoking.

He claimed that evidence shows that vaping is up to 95 per cent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

“Most importantly from a small business point of view, legalising vaping would allow retailers to sell a less dangerous product to people addicted to smoking, he said. “Vaping is legal and used as a smoking cessation aid in much of the western world, including the US, UK, Japan and New Zealand. It makes no sense that we  continue to allow people to buy traditional cigarettes but make it illegal to access less harmful vaping products, which also assist people to quit smoking.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) believes there is insufficient evidence that e-cigarettes have a role as cessation aids.

Under the direction of the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, the National Centre for Epidemiology and Public Health is currently conducting an Australian review of the evidence around e-cigarettes.

“There is evidence that e-cigarettes normalise smoking, particularly among young people,” said Australian Medical Association National President Dr Tony Bartone.

“International experience shows that e-cigarettes are popular among young people, increasing the risk of nicotine addiction and subsequent tobacco smoking. Preventing exposure to smoking among young people is a key pillar of tobacco control efforts. Young people need to be educated and assisted to resist the clever advertising and marketing for e-cigarettes – it is just a smokescreen.’

“We must continue to be a world leader in combating smoking and being vigilant about products and promotions, including e-cigarettes, that may tempt people to continue or take up the killer habit.”


CHIEF MEDICAL & HEALTH OFFICERS: E-cigarettes linked to severe lung illness.