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Smoking is a dying habit

10 October 2019

One in eight adults (close to half a million people) are regular cigarette smokers in New Zealand, Stats NZ said today.

At the time of the 2018 Census, the proportion of regular cigarette smokers aged 15 years and over decreased to 13.2 percent, down from 15.1 percent in 2013. This drop continues the trend shown over the last 40 years. When cigarette smoking behaviour was first recorded in the 1976 Census, the proportion of regular smokers was 35.6 percent of the census usually resident population count aged 15 years and over. This was equivalent to about 1 in 3 people stating they were daily cigarette smokers. In 2018, 1 in 8 people stated they were daily cigarette smokers.

“These changes are likely due to a number of factors, including rapidly rising costs of tobacco, a lower number of young adults taking up smoking, an increase in smoking alternatives such as vaping, and recent stop-smoking programmes,” census general manager Kathy Connolly said.

For example, the 2017/18 New Zealand Health Survey reported 2.6 percent of New Zealand adults vape daily and 18.5 percent have tried an electronic cigarette at least once. The Ministry of Health will publish the results of the 2018/19 New Zealand Health Survey on 14 November 2019. This will include the latest statistics on vaping in New Zealand.


Our census results are consistent with the Ministry of Health’s cigarette smoking behaviour results from their 2017/18 New Zealand Health Survey. The New Zealand Health Survey, an interview-based survey which collects a similar concept to the census, showed the proportion of daily smokers was 13.1 percent of the adult population in 2017/18.


Although the overall proportion of the population that regularly smoked cigarettes has decreased, the number of regular smokers actually increased by 35,802 to 498,996 people between the 2013 and 2018 Censuses. This reflects the growth in the population.

Cigarette smoking behaviour

Census data on cigarette smoking refers to the active smoking of one or more manufactured or hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes, from purchased or home-grown tobacco, per day, by a person aged 15 years and over. It does not include the smoking of tobacco in cigars, pipes, or e-cigarettes (vape devices).

Cigarette smoking behaviour is derived from two questions in the 2018 Census questionnaire. The first is a regular-smoker indicator and the second is an ever-smoked indicator.

For the regular-smoker indicator, 84.0 percent of responses were from the 2018 Census individual form. For the remaining people, we used 2013 Census data (7.8 percent) and imputation (8.1 percent) to fill in all missing values. For the ever-smoked indicator, 85.1 percent of responses were from the 2018 Census individual form, 6.8 percent from 2013 Census data, and 8.1 percent from imputation.

These proportions of 2013 Census data and imputation used are at a national level. The use of these data sources varies across different geographic and demographic subpopulations. Using 2013 Census data to replace missing responses has introduced a small amount of bias towards ‘regular smokers’ in the dataset.

The cigarette smoking behaviour variable is rated as moderate quality. Cigarette smoking behaviour in our DataInfo+ tool has more information on definitions and data quality.

Smoking rates by age, sex, ethnicity, and income are not currently available, but will be published at a later date.

About the 2018 Census dataset

We combined data from the census forms with administrative data to create the 2018 Census dataset, which meets Stats NZ’s quality criteria for population structure information.

We added real data about real people to the dataset where we were confident they should be counted, but they hadn’t completed a census form. We also used data from the 2013 Census and administrative sources, and statistical imputation methods to fill in some missing characteristics of people.

The independent External Data Quality Panel has endorsed the statistical approaches used by Stats NZ to mitigate non-response. However, the cigarette smoking behaviour variable was not specifically looked at by the panel.

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:
• Visit Smoking is a dying habit

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