2.6 Comparisons of quality and results using various estimates of tobacco consumption in Australia

Each of the alternative sources of data used to estimate tobacco consumption–production and trade data, tax receipts, sales data, self-reported use of cigarettes and self-reported expenditure on tobacco products–has advantages and disadvantages. And readers will have noted that each provides different estimates of total and per capita consumption.

2.6.1 Limitations of data

While quantifying the number of cigarettes produced in Australian factories or levied for duty prior to sale may seem like a straightforward, highly objective process, it must be remembered that data on manufacturing and duties is generated by individuals interpreting and reporting on data entered into electronic databases by other individuals. There is still room for error and inconsistency over time and between individuals in the way that products are coded and the ways that quantities are recorded and aggregated.

One can be reasonably confident about the accuracy of data provided by Australian tobacco companies to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is covered by an act of law1 requiring companies to comply with official requests. International research agencies compiling data on numbers of cigarettes produced or sold by contrast have no such legal sway over respondents, and no legislative requirement to disclose and correct errors if these emerge.

Production and trade data may be lower or higher from year to year not because retail sales have decreased, but rather because of changes in timing of production schedules, importing and exporting opportunities and warehousing practices. Some commentators suspect that tobacco companies may even alter production schedules to reduce or increase apparent production over particular periods to attempt to persuade governments that certain tobacco-control initiatives are ineffective.2

Data on weight of tobacco products manufactured or excised over the years provide only a rough estimate of the numbers of cigarettes consumed, given that cigarettes weights have declined over time, with little information available about the average weight in each year. Estimates of cigarette imports to and exports from Australia based on weight may somewhat underestimate the actual numbers of cigarettes being imported and exported if these are based on international rather than Australian averages of cigarette weight.

It is important to remember that the quantities of tobacco products on which duties are levied and the quantities of tobacco products sold by licensed tobacco companies and wholesalers underestimate consumption to the extent that they miss illicit tobacco and contraband cigarettes.

Self-reports of amounts of tobacco consumed are notoriously unreliable. Questions concerning daily (or weekly or monthly) consumption by smokers in Australia have generally asked smokers for global estimates of smoking in recent periods of time; however it is known that global retrospective reports generate significantly lower estimates than do reports generated when people are required to keep electronic or paper-based diaries.3,4 Some of the disparity between the figures based on official records and self-report data may also be accounted for by stock that is past the use-by date or damaged and returned not sold. The estimate of total annual consumption built up from self-report data included in Table 2.2.6 (see Section 2.2) does not take into account cigarettes smoked by children under 14 years of age. On the other hand, estimates of tobacco sales and consumption based on excise and customs receipts do not include products on which such duties have been evaded. It is clear that smokers must significantly underestimate the amount they smoke each day. There is no evidence, however, that the tendency or extent of under-reporting has changed over recent times.

Industry sales data found periodically on the websites of tobacco companies or published in trade magazines should also be interpreted with caution. Methods of collecting the data and sources are often not reported. Sometimes such data are based on raw figures; sometimes they represent 12-month running averages. Often the basis for estimates is not reported. For instance, researchers rarely explain how they estimate cigarette numbers from data based on weight and vice versa. Not infrequently, figures are revised without explanation, and without corresponding revision of historical figures included in data tables.

Table 2.6.1 attempts to compare and contrast the various limitations associated with each source of data relevant for estimating tobacco consumption in Australia.

Table 2.6.1
Overview of limitations of various data sources used to estimate tobacco consumption


Completeness of data

Relevance to actual consumption by consumer

Consistency of collection methods

Frequency of data collection

Legal requirement to provide complete and correct information; subject to external independent audit?

Estimated or directly measured?

Includes consumption of illicit stock?

Availability over time

Production figures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Very high



Has been frequent



Not all of it

Stops at 1994

Production figures compiled by private-sector research agencies

Not known




Yes for data provided to regulators and investors


Not all of it

Need to subscribe or purchase

Excise and customs data




Has been frequent, but no longer easily accessible




Excise data available only 10 months after end of financial year and in highly aggregated form

Self-report data

Samples only; excludes consumption estimates for people using products other than cigarettes

Very high

High in Australia

Three yearly (annual nationally and in some states to evaluate National Tobacco Campaign and other campaigns)

No – subject to under-reporting



1983 to 1998 based on weekly no of packs; 2001 to 2010 for daily, weekly or monthly

Private final consumption








1960 to current

Household spending figures based on expenditure surveys

Samples only

Consumption by households rather than individuals


Only every six years




1984 to 2009

Sales figures compiled by industry research bodies


Very high


Annual, but outside industry, usually able to be purchased only several years later

Yes for data provided to regulators and investors

Mixture of direct and estimated

Estimates only

Euromonitor data from 1998 to 2011

Frustration about lack of reliable data on tobacco consumption has led researchers and policy experts to call for the government to require tobacco companies to report on sales using their own records of stock supplied to and returned from wholesalers and retailers.5, 6 Companies could be required to report quarterly and annually on sales of various categories of tobacco products on a regional, state and national basis. In this way health authorities could judge the relative success of tobacco-control strategies in each jurisdiction. Such reporting of sales is required under the Smokefree Environments Act 1990 in New Zealand7 and the Tobacco Reporting Regulations in Canada.8

All the limitations described above warn against unqualified acceptance of any one figure as a definitive estimate of consumption in Australia. Interpreting changes over time and comparisons between countries is especially fraught.

2.6.2 Consistency of changes in various datasets

Figure 2.6.1 sets out per capita estimates based on all the various sources of data that provide insights into tobacco consumption in Australia


Figure 2.6.1

Figure 2.6.1
Per capita consumption of tobacco products in Australia 1970 to 2010 estimated according to a variety of methods

Sources: Guindon and Bosclair 2003,2 Scollo 2012,9 ABS 201110,11 and Euromonitor International 201112

Note: ABS household expenditure data adjusted for tobacco prices. 13 All data divided by ABS 2010 estimates of resident population, Australia ages 15 and over ABS 201014

Although the various estimates of consumption are calculated from very different data sources, the overall trends–the steepness of decline in particular periods–are surprisingly similar.

While we might not be able to say exactly what current tobacco consumption actually is at present in Australia, from the similarity of the pattern of reductions in all the data sources, we can be certain that it has been reducing.

Figure 2.6.2 plots per capita consumption against smoking prevalence between 1980 and 2010.


Figure 2.6.2

Figure 2.6.2
Estimates of per capita consumption of tobacco products in Australia based on excise and customs and receipts versus estimates of smoking prevalence

Sources: ABS 2010;14 Hill and Gray 1982;15 Hill and Gray 1984;16 Hill 1988;17 Hill, White and Gray 1988;18 Hill, White and Gray 1991;19 Hill, White and Scollo 1998;20 White, Hill et al 2003;21 and AIHW 2002,22 2005,23 200824 and 201125

Notes: Excise and customs receipts (see large number of sources for Table 2.2.1) divided by population 15 years and over14 and prevalence figures from CBRC re-analysis of data from surveys conducted by the Anti-Cancer Council Victoria between 1980 and 199815–21 and the National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2001 to 201022–25

Trends in our best estimates of per capita consumption of tobacco products seemed to closely mirror trends in population smoking prevalence until 1991. Between 1991 and 2004 (a period of rapid adoption of smokefree policies) consumption appears to have fallen more steeply than prevalence. This is consistent with reviews that demonstrate a reduction in cigarettes per day among smokers who are subjected to workplace smoke-free laws26–29 Since 2004, consumption and prevalence appear once again to be falling in parallel.

Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click here.(Last updated September 2018)


1. Census and Statistics Act 1905 (Cth). Available from: http://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/casa1905241/

2. Guindon G and Boisclair D. Past, Current and Future Trends in Tobacco Use. New York: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2003. Available from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/HEALTHNUTRITIONANDPOPULATION/Resources/281627-1095698140167/Guindon-PastCurrent-whole.pdf

3. Shiffman S. How many cigarettes did you smoke? Assessing cigarette consumption by global report, Time-Line Follow-Back, and ecological momentary assessment. Health Psychology 2009;28(5):519–26. Available from: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2009-14439-001&CFID=25424632&CFTOKEN=11215373

4. Pierce J. Electronic recording, self-report, and bias in measuring cigarette consumption. Health Psychology 2009;28(5):527–8. Available from: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2009-14439-002&CFID=25424632&CFTOKEN=11215373

5. VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control. Tobacco Control: A Blue Chip Investment in Public Health. Melbourne: The Cancer Council Victoria, 2003 Last modified July 2004 [viewed. Available from: http://www.vctc.org.au

6. Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy. Meeting the challenges of the next five years - 7: Ideas and resources for improving information to fine-tune policy. National Tobacco Strategy, supporting documents. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2005.

7. Smoke-free Environment's Act 1990. New Zealand Available from: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1990/0108/51.0/DLM223191.html

8. Tobacco Reporting Regulations, 2000. Canada. Available from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2000-273/

9. Scollo M. 2.2 Dutiable tobacco products as an estimate of tobacco consumption, 1903 to 2010-11. In Scollo, M, ed.Tobacco in Australia: facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria, 2012 Available from: Section 2.2

10. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 5206.0 Australian National Accounts: national income, expenditure and product, Table 8. Household final consumption (HFCE) Australia. Canberra: ABS, 2011. Updated 7 December 2011 [viewed 10 December 2011] ; Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/5206.0Sep%202011?OpenDocument

11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6503.0 Household Expenditure Survey and Survey of Income and Housing: summary of results, 2009-10. Canberra: ABS, 2011. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6530.02009-10?OpenDocument

12. Euromonitor International. Tobacco in Australia, Global Market Information Database, 2011. London: Euromonitor International, 2012. [viewed 9 August 2012] ; Available from: http://www.euromonitor.com

13. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6401.0 Consumer Price Index, Australia Table 11. CPI: group, sub-group and expenditure class, index numbers by capital city. Canberra: ABS, 2011. Updated 26 October 2011 [viewed 30 December 2011] ; Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6401.0Sep%202011?OpenDocument

14. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3201.0 Population by age and sex, Australian states and territories, Jun 2010; Table 9. Estimated resident population by single year of age, Australia Canberra: ABS, 2010. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/B52C3903D894336DCA2568A9001393C1?opendocument

15. Hill D and Gray N. Patterns of tobacco smoking in Australia. Medical Journal of Australia 1982;1:23-5. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/927253

16. Hill D and Gray N. Australian patterns of smoking and related health beliefs in 1983. Community Health Studies 1984;8:307-16. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6518750

17. Hill D. Australian patterns of tobacco smoking in 1986. Medical Journal of Australia 1988;149:6-10. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3386578

18. Hill DJ, White VM and Gray NJ. Measures of tobacco smoking in Australia 1974-1986 by means of a standard method. Medical Journal of Australia 1988;149(1):10-12. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3386561

19. Hill D, White V and Gray N. Australian patterns of tobacco smoking in 1989. Medical Journal of Australia 1991;154(12):797-801. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2041504

20. Hill DJ, White VM and Scollo MM. Smoking behaviours of Australian adults in 1995: trends and concerns. Medical Journal of Australia 1998;168:209-13. Available from: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/1998/168/5/smoking-behaviours-australian-adults-1995-trends-and-concerns

21. White V, Hill D, Siahpush M and Bobevski I. How has the prevalence of cigarette smoking changed among Australian adults? Trends in smoking prevalence between 1980 and 2001. Tobacco Control 2003;12(suppl. 2):ii67-ii74. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/12/suppl_2/ii67

22. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 11, AIHW cat. no. PHE 41. Canberra: AIHW, 2002. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol-other-drug-treatment-services/2001-ndshs-detailed-findings/contents/table-of-contents

23. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug strategy series no.16, AIHW cat. no. PHE 66. Canberra: AIHW, 2005. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol-other-drug-treatment-services/2004-ndshs-detailed-findings/contents/table-of-contents

24. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 22, AIHW cat. no. PHE 107. Canberra: AIHW, 2008. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/2007-nhsds-detailed-findings/contents/table-of-contents

25. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: survey report. Drug statistics series no. 25, AIHW cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW, 2011. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712&libID=32212254712&tab=2

26. Brownson RC, Hopkins DP and Wakefield MA. Effects of smoking restrictions in the workplace. Annual Review of Public Health 2002;23:333–48. Available from: http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.23.100901.140551?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dncbi.nlm.nih.gov

27. Chapman S, Borland R, Scollo M, Brownson RC, Dominello A and Woodward S. The impact of smoke-free workplaces on declining cigarette consumption in Australia and the United States. American Journal of Public Health 1999;89(7):1018–23. Available from: http://www.ajph.org/cgi/reprint/89/7/1018

28. Fichtenberg C and Glantz S. Effect of smokefree workplaces on smoking behaviour: systematic review. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.) 2002;325(7357):188. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/325/7357/188?view=long&pmid=12142305

29. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Evaluating the effectiveness of smoke-free policies. Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Tobacco Control, vol. 13 Lyon, France: IARC, 2009. Available from: https://www.iarc.fr/en/publications/pdfs-online/prev/handbook13/handbook13.pdf

      Previous Chapter Next Chapter