Did you know that until 1995 you could still light up a ciggie in a hospital?
That sure seems like a world away.
1996 also happens to be the year when the first Gen Zs were born and since smoking bans and education were introduced in the 90s the consumption of tobacco products has decreased dramatically in Australia. And Gen Zs, according to our Gen Z Wellbeing Check research surveying over 1000 of them nationally, appear to have well and truly put out cigarettes for good.
In fact, the vast majority of young Australians aged 15 to 24 (87%) told us they never smoke cigarettes, with just 2% admitting to smoking every day, 2% having a dart weekly, and less than 1% having a ciggie once a month. Just 8% told us they light up ‘occasionally’ (social smokers, we’re looking at you).
This compares to ABS data which says 97% of 15-17 years olds never smoke, while 1% reported being current daily smokers. Our research found 91% of 15-17 year olds never smoke, and just 0.4% do it daily.
The ABS’s research also found 8% of 18-24 years old smoked daily, compared to our findings of 3%, with the ABS finding 83% of them never smoke which lines up with our findings of 84% for that age group. And compared to older age groups as seen in the chart below, Gen Zs are smoking cigarettes a lot less than them.
Experts attribute the dramatic downward trend in cigarette smoking to the world’s first digital natives unfettered access to knowledge online. Put simply, Gen Zs know all about the dangers associated with smoking. And they’re simply not willing to take the risk.
Vaping has also replaced cigarettes for many young people and it is argued they are less harmful than cigarettes.
Even those who have smoked cigarettes have learned their lesson and are advocating against taking up the deadly habit.
“If you haven’t developed any habits around drugs and/or alcohol (including nicotine), do everything in your power to avoid starting,” an 18-year-old male from Queensland told us as part of our Gen Z Wellbeing Check research.
“Regardless if you are a chain smoker or binge drinker or neither, using any amount of these substances will negatively impact your health. Since quitting smoking cigarettes, I found that I am physically capable of so much more. I can run farther, skateboard longer and just generally enjoy exercise so much more.”
While data does show a downward trend for the past three decades, the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco have actually been on the rise over the past two years.
Experts reckon it’s due to unprecedented stress levels courtesy of the pandemic.
Statista, in its profile on the Australian cigarette industry, writes:
“Cigarette sales have been declining in most countries over the years. Surprisingly, this trend was reversed during the COVID-19 pandemic in many markets, including the U.S., which saw a growth of 2.3% in sales volumes in 2020 compared to 2019.
“Among the key factors that contributed to sales increases in many countries were stringent border controls during the pandemic, which resulted in a decrease in the illicit trade of cigarettes, and pandemic-related anxiety, which led to pantry loading.
“However, this was only a short-term phenomenon, and we expect volume sales to continue declining in the majority of markets.”
But some Gen Zs like Tess Gatts, who writes for Very Good Light, say it’s actually all about image.
“Researchers recently saw a rise in smoking in this generation (and see it) as stress relief and social activity versus a long-term habit,” Gatts said.
“(However) being a Gen Zer myself, I know that this is not simply a stress-induced social activity people are trying out. Gen Z is all about self-branding and bringing back old trends.
“Gen Z is smoking because it’s edgy, reminds them of icons from past decades, adds to their self-brand, and has an aesthetic most Gen Zers crave.”
Smoking to look cool?
Maybe some young people today aren’t so different from previous generations, after all.
But as the data shows, they are still firmly in the minority as Gen Zs give cigarettes the flick for good.