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New publication reveals a dramatic drop in Australian smoking rates over the last quarter of a century

Fewer than 1 in 5 Australians are lighting up, with new data revealing smoking rates amongst Australian adults have dropped 15 percentage points over the last quarter of a century, from 34 per cent 1980 to 19% in 2007.

The data is featured in Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues, a Commonwealth funded online publication released today by the Cancer Council Victoria reviewing the major issues in smoking and health in Australia.

The data also shows:

  • Smoking rates for young adults (18-24 year olds) have more than halved over the last 27 years, dropping from 47% in 1980 to 19% in 2007
  • Fewer Australian women are now lighting up, with smoking rates falling more than 11 percentage points to 18% from 29% in 1980.
  • Smoking rates for Australian men have almost halved since 1980, dropping from 40% to 21% in 2007

Professor Mike Daube, Deputy Chair of the Australian Government's Preventative Health Taskforce and Chair of the Tobacco Working Group, said how quickly or slowly smoking rates decline reflects the level of tobacco control activities occurring at the time.

"We know exactly what needs to be done to end the smoking epidemic. Smoking has killed more than 900,000 Australians since we have had clear evidence about its dangers. We must ensure that the momentum is maintained, so that hundreds of thousands more Australians do not die needlessly early".

"In Australia, a drop in male smoking rates in the early 1980s coincided with a period of new, well-funded Quit campaigns and an upsurge in debate about tobacco control issues in the media."

"By contrast, the steady smoking rates during the early to mid 1990s correspond with a lull in legislative activity concerning tobacco advertising and smoking restrictions, and also with a sharp reduction in funding for public education campaigns."

Professor Daube said the close relationship between tobacco control activities and smoking trends emphasised the importance of taking the action known to reduce smoking in adults and children.

"The need for action on tobacco is as urgent as ever. We cannot afford to be complacent while 15,000 Australians each year die prematurely. The public health gains from a decline in smoking are both enormous and unquestionable."

"The drop in smoking is already a remarkable public health success and has achieved remarkable gains in lung cancer and other diseases, but we will not achieve the further changes we need if tobacco control activity is sporadic. Continuing exposure to mass-reach interventions, such as price increases and media campaigns is vital"

Executive Director of Quit, Ms Fiona Sharkie said despite the decline in smoking rates, smoking remains a leading cause of death and disease in Australia, killing almost 15 000 people annually.

"Since about one-fifth of the adult population currently smokes, and because half of these smokers can be expected to die because of their tobacco use if they do not quit, tobacco-caused death and disease will remain for decades to come."

Ms Sharkie advocated an increase in the price of cigarettes, saying this is probably the most effective intervention that can be made in tobacco control.

"There was a drop in smoking rates at the end of the 1990s, which may be a result of the combined effects of increased tobacco taxes, and a national mass-media led program aimed at encouraging quitting."

"Smokefree legislation also appears to have driven reductions in tobacco use and contributed to falling uptake by children."

"We have had robust quitting campaigns in recent years and state-based initiatives have ensured an increase in smokefree areas but aside from CPI increases and the introduction of the GST in June 2000, tobacco tax has not increased in Australia in almost ten years."

"With rising costs in food, petrol and housing, tobacco is now relatively inexpensive. It is cheaper to buy a packet of cigarettes than it is to go to a movie or buy a mobile phone card," said Ms Sharkie.



Edwina Pearse,
Media Manager
ph: (03) 9635 5400
mob: 0417 303 811

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