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Cigarette smoking


The proportion of the adult 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).


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) has been identified as a major risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and respiratory problems in children. Internationally, smoking has been identified as the major cause of preventable death in OECD countries.26

Current level and trends

In 2006, 24 percent of New Zealanders aged 15–64 years were cigarette smokers. This prevalence estimate is the same as that derived from the ACNielsen survey for 2005, although it is important to note the estimates from the two data sources are not strictly comparable. Smoking has declined from 30 percent in 1986, with most of the decline occurring between 1987 and 1991.

Figure H4.1 Cigarette smoking, 1986–2006

Figure H4.1 Cigarette smoking, 1986–2006

Source: Ministry of Health (2006c) Tables B1, C2
Notes: (1) Data not standardised for age (2) 1986–2005: population aged 15+ years; 2006: population aged 15–64 years

Age and sex differences

Smoking rates for females and males have been similar since the mid-1980s. Over the 1990s, both sexes became less likely to smoke. In 2006, 25 percent of males and 23 percent of females smoked.

Smoking is most prevalent among people aged 20–29 years, followed by those aged 15–19 years and those aged 30–39 years. People aged 50 years and over are much less likely to smoke than younger people and have experienced the greatest decline in smoking prevalence over the past 20 years. However, the biggest decrease in smoking between 2002 and 2006 occurred among those aged 15–24 years.

Ethnic differences

Maori women have the highest smoking rate (50 percent in 2006), followed by Māori men (40 percent). Among Pacific peoples, smoking is more prevalent among men (41 percent) than among women (34 percent). Asian men (19 percent) and women (5 percent) have the lowest smoking rates and the biggest difference between the sexes.

Since 1990, smoking prevalence has declined by five percentage points for the European/Other and Māori ethnic groups, while it has increased for Pacific peoples. Time series data for the Asian population alone is not available.27

Table H4.1 Age-standardised prevalence (%) of cigarette smoking, by sex and ethnicity, 2006

  Percentage in each ethnic group who smoke cigarettes
Māori Pacific peoples
Asian European/Other Total
Male 40.0 41.3 18.6 21.3 24.6
Female 50.0 33.8 4.7 20.0 23.3
Total 45.2 37.4 12.3 20.6 24.0

Source: Ministry of Health (2006c) Table 1
Note: Rates are age-standardised using the WHO world population

Socio-economic differences

Smoking is more prevalent among those with lower incomes, beneficiaries and those living in the most deprived areas. An analysis of 1996 Census data shows the proportion of smokers in the most deprived (decile 10) areas is two to three times the proportion of smokers in the least deprived (decile 1) areas for all age groups, and for both sexes.28

International comparison

In a 2003 comparison of daily adult smoking, New Zealand had a rate of 22 percent, compared with an OECD median of 25 percent.29 New Zealand ranked eighth lowest out of 30 OECD countries. Smoking prevalence was highest in Greece (39 percent in 2004) and lowest in Canada (15 percent). New Zealand's rate was lower than that of the United Kingdom (25 percent), but considerably higher than those of Australia (18 percent) and the United States (17 percent). Compared to other developed countries, New Zealand's smoking levels are relatively low for males and relatively high for females.30

Tobacco consumption

Tobacco consumption, measured from customs data or tobacco company returns, complements the smoking prevalence data above and provides a different perspective on tobacco use. In 2006, tobacco consumption was 1,016 cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, down slightly from 1,033 in 2005. 

Since 1990, tobacco consumption has decreased from 1,971 cigarette equivalents per person, or by 48 percent. Over this period, the drop in tobacco consumption has been more rapid than the drop in smoking prevalence.

Figure H4.2 Tobacco consumption, cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, 1990–2006

Figure H4.2 Tobacco consumption, cigarette equivalents per person aged 15 years and over, 1990–2006

Sources: Ministry of Health (2006c) Table D1; Statistics New Zealand (2007a)