Australia's largest preventable health threat


Smoker in the dark

This World No Tobacco Day 31 May, WHO asks smokers worldwide to ‘Choose Health. Not Tobacco’.

Tobacco smoking is the lead cause of preventable death in Australia. The last National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) showed that tobacco smoking contributes to more hospitalisations and deaths than alcohol and illicit drug use combined. Although daily smoking nearly halved from the 1991 (24 per cent) to 2013 survey results (12.8 per cent), there’s been little change from 2013 to 2016 (12.2 per cent).

“Tobacco kills one person every four seconds.” - World Health Organisation

Smoking tobacco causes cancer. This statement is a shocking but undeniable fact supported by evidence collected since the 1930s. But despite the overwhelming evidence from studies worldwide, some spanning 50 years or more, global tobacco use is still killing over 8 million people every year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, “The pace of action to reduce tobacco demand and related death and disease is lagging behind global and national commitments.”

Tobacco deaths in Australia

In 2016 tobacco smoking was responsible for 24 per cent of all deaths in Australia. In the same year the Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence reported that in NSW alone, on average 6,850 people died of smoking attributable deaths (58 per cent male and 42 per cent female).

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimate that 80 per cent of lung cancer and 75 per cent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a collective of lung diseases) are caused by smoking cigarettes.

Who’s still smoking?

The 2016 NDSHS showed:

  • The daily smoking rate for teenagers has declined by approximately 80 per cent since 2001
  • There were was no decline or improvements in daily use amongst people aged 40–49, this age group were most likely to smoke daily (16.9 per cent). 
  • Little to no improvement in daily use amongst people aged 60 or older. 

Lung facts

How smoking affects the lungs:

  • Smoking tobacco paralyses the structures of your lungs that are responsible for sweeping away mucus and dirt from your airways.
  • Your lungs continue to grow well into adulthood, but inhaling the toxins in cigarette smoke slows this process and causes potentially irreversible lung damage.
  • The harmful effects of smoke on the lungs are almost immediate.
  • Babies born to mothers who smoke, or to women who are exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy, are likely to suffer reduced lung growth and function.

Find out more about how smoking affects the body through the interactive iCanQuit body chart.


Why quit now?

The good news is your health improves from the moment you quit smoking. Within 2 to 12 weeks of quitting, the risk of heart attack is lowered, circulation is better, exercise is easier and lung function is improved. Even within 12 hours the level of carbon monoxide in your blood has decreased dramatically and oxygen levels are improving. Evidence also suggests that quitting can reduce anxiety. Your wallet will also get a rest! Saving money is a substantial benefit of quitting too.

It will still take you at least 10 years of quitting to lower your risk of lung cancer to less than half that of a continuing smoker, so it’s important to maintain your resolve and or help others who are quitting. Using the help offered by services like Quitline throughout your quit plan will help you keep on track. In fact, according to WHO “Tobacco users increase their absolute quit rate by 4 per cent using quitlines.”

Help to quit

Call Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) for information and advice about quitting, assessment of your nicotine dependence, strategies on preparing to quit and staying quit.

The Aboriginal Quitline is also available on 13 7848 (13 QUIT). Run by Aboriginal Advisors, the Aboriginal Quitline is a telephone-based confidential advice and support service.

My QuitBuddy is an app for iPhone, Android and Windows developed by Quitline. The app helps you set goals, celebrate quit milestones, track the money you’ve saved from cutting cigarettes and games to distract you from cravings. The My QuitBuddy app is available free for download.

Join a supportive community to help you quit for good at and for more information on Tobacco and it's effects visit the A-Z of Drugs | Tobacco page.

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