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Cigarette smoking


The proportion of the population who currently smoke cigarettes. Up to 2005, the survey population was people aged 15 years and over (ACNielsen survey). From 2006, the survey population is people aged 15–64 years (New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey, New Zealand Health Survey).


Tobacco smoking is a well-recognised risk factor for many cancers and for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (particularly maternal smoking) is a major risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and respiratory problems in children. Smoking has been identified as the major cause of preventable death in OECD countries.32

Current level and trends

In 2009, 22 percent of people aged 15–64 years were current cigarette smokers, according to the New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey. This was below the smoking prevalence rate derived from the New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey conducted in 2008 (24 percent).

Note: Updated information on trends for the population aged 15 years and over, and on age, sex, ethnic and socio-economic differences, will be included following the release of the full report on the 2009 Tobacco Use Survey, planned for late 2010.

Long-term trends are available only for the population aged 15 years and over. The Ministry of Health’s estimate of smoking prevalence for this population in 2008 is 21.0 percent. This is similar to the 2006/2007 New Zealand Health Survey estimate of 19.9 percent and the 2006 Census figure of 20.7 percent, but below the 24 percent derived from the ACNielsen survey for 2005. Among the population aged 15 years and over, smoking has declined from 30 percent in 1986, with most of the decline occurring between 1987 and 1991.

It is important to note there are methodological differences between these three surveys and some caution should be used when comparing figures. Ongoing monitoring in the social report will be based on the New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey, as this allows the most frequent updates.

Age and sex differences

Smoking rates for females and males have generally been similar since the mid-1980s. However, after adjusting for age, the male rate was higher than the female rate in 2008 (26 percent and 22 percent respectively).

In 2008, smoking was most prevalent among people aged 25–34 years (28 percent), followed by those aged 15–24 years (26 percent). People aged 55–64 years had a significantly lower smoking prevalence rate (17 percent) than younger age groups. Since the mid-1980s, people aged 55 years and over have experienced the greatest decline in smoking prevalence.33

Daily smoking rates for 14–15 year olds have declined considerably since 1999. Between 1999 and 2009, the prevalence of daily smoking declined by 65 percent for boys in this age group (from 14 percent to 5 percent) and by 63 percent for girls (from 17 percent to 6 percent).

Ethnic differences

After adjusting for age, smoking prevalence is significantly higher among Māori and Pacific peoples (at around 46 percent and 31 percent respectively in 2008), than among the total population aged 15–64 years. It is significantly lower among Asian ethnic groups (13 percent in 2008). Among Māori adults, smoking prevalence is significantly higher for women than for men. The opposite is the case for other ethnic groups, particularly Asians: Asian men have a significantly higher smoking prevalence rate than Asian women.

Among 14–15 year olds, Māori girls had the highest daily smoking rate in 2009 (18 percent), but it had halved from 36 percent in 1999. The rate for Māori boys was 11 percent in 2009, down from 24 percent in 1999. For Pacific students, the daily smoking rate fell by around two-thirds over the decade (from 23 percent to 7 percent for girls and from 17 percent to 6 percent for boys).

Table H4.1 Age-standardised prevalence (%) of cigarette smoking, by sex and ethnic group, 2008

  Percentage in each ethnic group who smoke cigarettes
European/Other Māori Pacific peoples Asian Total
Male 23.8 41.5 35.0 21.5 25.7
Female 20.9 49.3 28.1 5.2 22.3
Total 22.3 45.7 31.4 13.1 23.9

Source: Ministry of Health (2009b)
Notes: (1) Rates are age-standardised using the WHO world standard population. (2) People who reported more than one ethnic group are counted once in each group reported.

Socio-economic differences

In 2008, the age-standardised smoking prevalence rate for 15–64 year olds in the most deprived areas (NZDep2006 deciles 9 and 10) was 2.7 times the rate in the least deprived areas (deciles 1 and 2).34

Among 14–15 year olds in 2009, daily smoking rates were four times higher for girls and more than twice as high for boys at schools drawn from low socio-economic communities (school deciles 1–3) than for boys and girls at schools in more advantaged communities (school deciles 8–10).

International comparison

In an OECD comparison of daily smoking rates for adults aged 15 years and over, New Zealand had a rate of 18.1 percent in 2007, compared with an OECD median of 23.2 percent.35 New Zealand ranked seventh lowest out of 30 OECD countries. Smoking prevalence was highest in Greece (39.7 percent in 2008) and lowest in Sweden (14.5 percent in 2006). New Zealand’s daily smoking rate was lower than the rates in Ireland (29.0 percent in 2007) and the United Kingdom (22.0 percent in 2008) and a little higher than the rates in Canada (17.5 percent in 2008), Australia (16.6 percent in 2007) and the United States (16.5 percent in 2008). The rate for New Zealand males was around two-thirds of the OECD median for males, while the rate for New Zealand females was similar to the OECD median for females.36

Tobacco consumption

In 2009, tobacco consumption was 961 cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, down slightly from 1,011 in 2008. Between 1991 and 2003, tobacco consumption fell by 43 percent, but there has been little change in recent years. Since 1991, the drop in tobacco consumption has been more rapid than the drop in smoking prevalence.

Figure H4.1 Tobacco consumption, cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, 1991–2009

Figure H4.1 Tobacco consumption, cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, 1991–2009

Source: Statistics New Zealand
Note: The data includes cigarettes and tobacco available for consumption.

» View technical details about the cigarette smoking indicator