Science denial is killing Australian smokers

Posted on January 17, 2023 By Colin

SMOKING RATES IN AUSTRALIA have stagnated over the past decade while falling rapidly in other countries where safer alternatives such as nicotine vaping, snus and heated tobacco products are widely available. Australian authorities continue to stubbornly deny the clear evidence that tobacco harm reduction is saving lives.

The adult smoking rate in Australia declined by only 1.7% per year since 2013, despite comprehensive tobacco control strategies, plain packaging and the highest cigarette prices in the world.

In countries which support safer nicotine alternatives, smoking has declined 2-3 times faster

(see below for data source details)

Safer alternatives are not the only cause of the accelerated smoking rates, but they are clearly a major contributor.

Under current regulations, Australia will miss its stated goal of reducing adult smoking prevalence from 14% to 5% over the next 8 years by a wide margin, as estimatedby an Australian modelling study.

New Zealand, UK and NZ

Vaping is the most effective quitting aid for smokers. [NIHR; Cochrane 2022] According to a report commissioned by the government of England, “vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking” and “smokers should be encouraged to use vaping products for stopping smoking”.

Vaping is reducing smoking rates rapidly in many western countries. After vaping was legalised in New Zealand in 2020 there was an unprecedented 33% decline in adult smoking rates from 2021-2022.

In Australia, vaping is subject to a de facto ban. Vaping is discouraged and most products are purchased illegally.

Sweden and Norway

Sweden and Norway have led the pack with snus, a moist, oral form of tobacco usually sold in a pouch like a small tea bag. It is placed under the upper lip where it slowly releases nicotine.

Snus is an effective quitting aid. According to Public Health England “long-term use of nicotine as ‘snus’ … has not been found to increase the risk of serious health problems in adults”.  The smoking rate in Sweden is now 5.6% compared to an EU average of around 30% (snus is banned in the EU)

Snus is effectively banned in Australia.


Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are electronic devices that heat a tobacco stick without combustion and carry only a small fraction of the risk of smoking. In Japan, since HTPs went on the market in 2015, cigarette sales have fallen by an extraordinary 52% as HTPs have replaced deadly smoking.

HTPs are effectively banned in Australia.

Its time to act

The research evidence for safer nicotine products and overseas success is now overwhelming but science denial is rampant in Australia

Australian policy on tobacco harm reduction is based not on the scientific evidence, but on ideology, politics, vested interests and opinions.

The Health Minister, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the National Preventative Health Strategy have signalled further harsh restrictions on vaping in Australia and are set to double down on the current regulations which have been a resounding failure. There is no plan to legalise snus and HTPs. The lives of hundreds of thousands of smokers hang in the balance.

Data sources

Sweden, National Public Health Survey, 16-84y

Japan, National Health and Nutrition Survey, 20+

New Zealand, Annual Health Survey, 15+

US, National Health Interview Survey, 18+

Norway, Statistics Norway, 16-74y

UK, Office of National Statistics, 18+

Australia, National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 18+

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