We’re off the cigarettes but still struggling with alcohol and drugs


WE’VE got the message about smoking, are refusing to change our risky drinking habits with the notable exception of teenagers and pregnant women, and our appetite for illicit drugs has risen in the past three years.

The mixed picture of drinking and drug use is revealed today in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which shows men are more likely to use legal or illegal drugs than women, except for pharmaceuticals, which are used equally.

The AIHW survey of 26,000 people reveals the proportion of people aged 14 and over smoking daily is 15.1 per cent, down from 16.6 per cent three years ago and 25 per cent in 1993. Of those 12-17, only 3.2 per cent of girls smoke daily and 1.8 per cent of boys.

“This . . . is encouraging, as tobacco smoking is the single most preventable cause of ill-health and death,” AIHW spokesman Brent Diverty said yesterday.

The biggest declines in daily smoking are among people in their early 20s to mid-40s, but for over-45s the proportion remained relatively stable, and for some age groups increased slightly.

Alcohol consumption at levels risking harm (more than two standard drinks a day) has remained constant at about one in five people since 2007, although the proportion aged 14 or older who consumed alcohol daily declined from 8.1 per cent in 2007 to 7.2 per cent last year.

In a sign the advertising campaign on the risks of alcohol for teenagers is working, a significant drop in teenage drinking has occurred. In 2007, 61.6 per cent of those 12-17 consumed alcohol at least once in the year, while last year the figure fell to 54.5 per cent.

More pregnant women are heeding the health message about alcohol, with 52 per cent abstaining from alcohol last year compared with 40 per cent in 2007.

The AIHW survey shows illicit drug use within the past 12 months rose from 13.4 per cent in 2007 to 14.7 per cent last year.

“There was an increase in the proportion of people who used cannabis, pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes, cocaine and hallucinogens,” Mr Diverty said. “But for the first time in since 1995, ecstasy use declined between 2007 and 2010, from 3.5 per cent to 3 per cent.”

The impact of alcohol use on others worsened in the past three years, the AIHW survey shows, with the proportion of people reporting they were physically abused by a person under the influence of alcohol increasing from 4.5 per cent to 8.1 per cent.

Stephen Lunn

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