Australians smoking less but taking more drugs

By Jamie Salter

Residents of regional and remote towns smoke and drink more than people in big cities, new health data shows.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study shows Australians are smoking less, still drinking dangerously high amounts and taking more drugs than they were three years ago.

The study surveyed more than 22,000 Australians aged 14 and over and found one-in-six Australians used drugs in the past 12 months.

Use of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, hallucinogens and inhalants all climbed between 2016 and 2019.

Cannabis remains Australia's most popular controlled substance, with more than one-in-three users getting high at least once a week.

Cocaine use is becoming more frequent, with about one-in-six users saying they took it at least once a month, up from about one-in-10 in 2016.

Wealthier Australians were more likely to use drugs like cocaine or ecstasy, while poorer Australians used more opioids.

Australians were also more relaxed about drugs, with increased support for pill testing and legalising cannabis.

Nicole Lee from Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute said cannabis’ popularity only saw more people have run-ins with the law.

“When the laws are creating more harms than the drug itself, it's time to review the laws,” Professor Lee said.

Younger Australians were avoiding cigarettes more, but people aged over 40 were found to still smoke.

Health experts welcomed the reduced smoking rates, but were worried by the growing take-up of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette use had climbed from 31 per cent in 2016 to 39 per cent in 2019, with younger Australians turning to vaping more.

University of Melbourne senior researcher Michelle Jongenelis said studies were linking vaping with heart disease and cancer.

“Although marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not harmless and there are significant health risks,” Dr Jongenelis said.

Alcohol remains Australia's drug of choice and people continue to drink dangerous amounts, the study found.