How does tobacco smoking contribute to poverty?

Posted 18 Oct 2016.

For Anti-Poverty Week (16th-22nd October) our Make Smoking History team are highlighting the impact tobacco smoking has on people living in poverty and our ongoing commitment to reducing it.

Despite smoking rates in the general population now being at an all-time low, the most vulnerable members of our community, including people who are living in poverty, remain the most affected by tobacco.

New research prepared by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) in collaboration with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW found that nearly 3 million Australians are living in poverty. What is even sadder is that about 730,000 of these Australians are under 15 years of age .

In Australia the poverty line is defined as 50% of the national median income, this is $426.30 a week for a single adult or $895.22 a week for a couple with children1.

A pack-a-day smoker currently spends over $10,000 of their income per year on cigarettes/rollies ($28 for 25 cigarettes/grams); by 2020 they will spend over $14,000 ($40 for 25 cigarettes/grams).

For a family where one or more parent smokes, the financial impact is significantly higher. Smoking not only causes immediate financial stress but also less financial security and a greater likelihood of poverty .

You may ask yourself, if it's having such a big impact on their lives, why don't they stop smoking? If only it was that simple. There are a number of reasons why people who experience social and financial disadvantage are more likely to smoke:

1. Tobacco is an addictive substance

We as a society often seem to forget that tobacco is a highly addictive substance. People experiencing disadvantage, including those living in poverty, often smoke more cigarettes and have been smoking for longer than the general population, this means they have a heavier nicotine addiction. Like any addiction, it is not always as simple as making the choice to stop. Like all smokers, they need support to quit; this includes social support, access to accurate information, smoke-free environments and discounted nicotine replacement therapies on the PBS.

2. Exposed to ‘smoke friendly' environments

People living in poverty are more likely to grow up and live in environments where smoking is the norm. This makes quitting very difficult because the temptation to smoke is always present. Implementing smoke-free environments is an important part of improving people's success in making a quit attempt.

3. Misconceptions about smoking

People often have misconceptions about smoking. For example, some people believe that smoking gives them a sense of stress relief and they can sometimes feel that they're unable to find alternatives. When in reality, smoking contributes to people's stress levels. Likewise, people might think loose tobacco is healthier; again, this is not the case. Giving people access to accurate information is important so they can make informed decisions.

4. Unequal access to support to quit

We know that less than 1% of smokers will quit without help . We also know that when asked, smokers from disadvantaged groups are interested in quitting, and can successfully if given the support. However, people experiencing disadvantage are less likely to be asked about their smoking and offered support to quit from health and other service providers. It's important that we work with services to improve people's access to support so they can make a successful quit attempt and reduce the impact tobacco has on them living in poverty.

We're committed to reducing the impact tobacco smoking has on poverty in WA and have partnered with the community and social services sector to improve people's access to information, support and healthy smoke-free environments.

We call on everyone working in social and community services to be part of the solution and help break the cycle of smoking! Your clients will thank you for it.

If you work in the social and community services sector we encourage you to visit the Make Smoking History for Community Services website. The Make Smoking History team can also be contacted on email or on 9388 4309.

And if you're currently a smoker and would like some help to quit, or if someone you know is trying to quit, visit the Make Smoking History website for handy tips on how to cut down and stay quit.


1. ACOSS and Social Policy Research Centre. Poverty in Australia 2016. Sydney: ACOSS; 2016. Available from:
2. Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available from:
3. Cancer Council NSW. Clearing the smoke: Best practice smoking cessation strategies for people with multiple disadvantages. Sydney: Cancer Council NSW; 2008. Available from:

Found in:  News - 2016 | View all news