Last updated October 2014
Most people who smoke as adults first tried cigarettes in their teenage years.1 Smoking uptake and prevalence escalates rapidly during adolescence, with 2% of young Australians aged 12 years reporting smoking at least monthly in 2008, increasing to 18% among those aged 17 years in the same year.2 While fewer than 10% of 17-year-old currenti smokers in 2008 were 'certain' they would not be smoking in 12 months' time and 19% said they were 'unlikely' to be smoking, one-quarter of 17-year-olds were undecided, and 48% were 'likely' or 'certain' to be smoking in a year's time.2 This suggests that the majority of Australian students who smoked in their final year of school in 2008 will continue smoking beyond their school years.
An estimated 16 500 Australian school children progressed from experimental to established smoking behaviour2 in 2008,2 down from 22 077 in 2004–05.ii 3 Young people show signs of dependence on tobacco-delivered nicotine at very low consumption levels, and after smoking only a few cigarettes.4 British research has found that smoking just a single cigarette at the age of 11 can leave a child susceptible to later uptake of regular smoking, even after a period of three or more years. This could be due to neurobiological factors, or social or personal traits.5
By far the majority of Australian teenagers who become smokers obtain their first cigarette from a friend or an acquaintance.6
The first 18 sections of this chapter (5.1 through to 5.18) describe a range of factors that influence smoking experimentation and transition to more regular and established smoking. While the various threads are discussed separately, it is important to remember that in reality many of these factors are interconnected and should not be considered in isolation. The second part of this chapter, commencing with Section 5.19, examines the factors that occur or can be influenced to help prevent the uptake of smoking.
1. US Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing tobacco use among young people: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2012/
2. White V and Smith G. Tobacco use among Australian secondary students. Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2008. Canberra: Drug Strategy Branch Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2009. Available from: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/Publishing.nsf/content/school08
3. White V and Scollo M. How many children take up smoking each year in Australia? [Letter]. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2003;27:359-60. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14705294
4. Sargent J and DiFranza J. Tobacco control for clinicians who treat adolescents. CA A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2003;53(2):102-23. Available from: http://caonline.amcancersoc.org/cgi/reprint/53/2/102
5. Fidler JA, Wardle J, Henning Brodersen N, Jarvis MJ and West R. Vulnerability to smoking after trying a single cigarette can lie dormant for three years or more. Tobacco Control 2006;15(3):205-9. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/3/205
6. 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