Intended for healthcare professionals


Australia sees large fall in smoking after introduction of standardised packs

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4689
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1The BMJ

New figures from Australia have shown that the prevalence of smoking among adults fell by 15% in the second half of 2013, from 15.1% to 12.8%, a year after standardised packaging was introduced in December 2012.

The figures come from the National Drugs Strategy Household Surveys, which has been conducted every two to three years since 1985. The latest survey collected data from nearly 24 000 people across Australia between 31 July and 1 December 2013.1

The survey was conducted before the government’s major hike in tobacco tax of 12.5% in December 2013.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the UK health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), said that the figures were evidence that standardised packaging reduced smoking rates. She said, “The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence. Well, here it is, and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging. This is exactly the strong and convincing evidence the tobacco industry said was needed.”

The UK government launched its second consultation on standardised packaging in June, including draft regulations on how requirements for standardised packaging would work in practice. It said in April that a second consultation was needed to allow any new views to be gathered since its 2012 consultation.2

In April an independent review of the evidence by Cyril Chantler, a former paediatrician and past chairman of the academic health science centre University College London Partners, concluded that standardised packaging was likely to contribute a modest but important reduction in smoking, including reducing the number of children who take up smoking.2

The Australian survey also found that fewer young people were taking up smoking. The proportion of 12-17 year olds who had never smoked remained high in 2013 at 95%, and the proportion of those aged 18-24 who had never smoked rose from 72% to 77%.

Young people were also starting to smoke later, with the average age at which 14-24 year olds smoked their first full cigarette rising from 14.2 years in 1995 to 15.9 in 2013.

The largest proportion of Australian smokers (16.2%) were aged between 40 and 49, but those aged over 50 were the heaviest smokers, consuming on average about 120 cigarettes a week, nearly double the number smoked by people in their 20s, who smoked about 75 cigarettes a week.

Alison Cox, head of tobacco policy at the charity Cancer Research UK, said, “It’s great to see that measures aimed at reducing the harm caused by tobacco, including standardised packaging, are having such a dramatic impact in reducing the numbers of smokers in Australia. The record drop in smoking rates demonstrates that governments who follow evidence based policy can make a real difference to public health.

“In the UK smoking rates are going down, but we’ve still a long way to go. Half of all long term users will die from smoking, and reducing the number of young people who start smoking must remain a focus in the UK. Standardised packaging is key to protecting children from tobacco marketing, and it would be a great health legacy for this parliament to make it a reality without delay.”

The UK consultation on plain packaging closes on 7 August.3 On 15 July the government also launched a consultation on smoking in cars carrying children.4


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4689


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