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Deaths & disease from smoking

Australian and Victorian figures for deaths from smoking, and information about diseases related to smoking.

Deaths in Australia

Tobacco smoking is one of the largest causes of preventable illness and death in Australia. Research estimates that two in three lifetime smokers will die from a disease caused by their smoking. The most recent estimate of deaths caused by tobacco in Australia is for the year 2018. Tobacco use caused a total of 20,500 deaths in that year. This includes deaths from active smoking and from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Deaths in Victoria

In 2011 4,427 people died from diseases caused by smoking.

Disease and health problems caused by smoking

  • Cancers of the lung, throat, mouth, tongue, nose, nasal sinus, voice box, oesophagus, pancreas, stomach, liver, kidney, bladder, ureter, bowel, ovary, cervix, and bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia). Smoking causes 1 in 8 cancer cases in Australia.

  • Heart disease . Around 30% of all cases of heart disease in those under 65 years are due to smoking.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes emphysema and small airways disease. Emphysema is rare in non-smokers.

  • Chronic bronchitis is a recurring cough together with frequent and increased phlegm. It occurs in about half of all heavy smokers.

  • Stroke. People under 65 years who smoke are around three times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers of the same age.

  • Peripheral vascular disease is a narrowing of the leg arteries that can lead to blockage and, in some cases, amputation. Cigarette smoking is the main risk factor for this disease.

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is the bursting of the lower part of the aorta leading from the heart. It often leads to sudden death. Cigarette smoking is the main preventable risk factor for this disease.

  • Type 2 diabetes, and higher risks for diseases associated with diabetes in people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

  • Peptic ulcer disease in persons who are Helicobater pylori positive.

  • Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

  • Lower fertility in women.

  • Low bone density in older women and hip fractures in both sexes.

  • Periodontitis, a dental disease that affects the gum and bone that supports the teeth.

  • Respiratory symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing, phlegm and wheezing. These symptoms occur in both young people and adults who smoke.

  • Faster decline in lung function, which is measured by how much air you can breathe out during a forced breath. All adults lose lung function as they age but this process occurs earlier and faster among people who smoke.

  • Impaired lung growth among children and adolescents who smoke and early onset of lung function decline in late adolescence and early adulthood.

  • Problems during pregnancy and childbirth including restricted foetal growth and low birth weight, ectopic pregnancy, complications that can lead to bleeding in pregnancy and the need for caesarean section delivery, and shortened time in the womb and preterm delivery (the baby is carried for less than 37 weeks). Smoking during pregnancy also causes death in early infancy (particularly from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), reduced lung function in childhood, and oral clefts (e.g. harelip) in infants.

  • Erectile dysfunction. Men who smoke increase their risk of impotence, and may have reduced semen volume, sperm count and sperm quality.

  • Tuberculosis disease and death.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Worsening asthma. People with asthma who smoke have poorer asthma control, faster decline in lung function, more airway inflammation, and get less benefit from some asthma medications, compared to non-smokers with asthma.      

For more information on smoking and disease see: 

Smoking as a risk factor

Cigarette smoking is also a risk factor associated with a number of health problems, including:

  • Breast cancer in women.

  • Crohn's disease (a chronic bowel disease).

  • Back pain.

  • Cirrhosis of the liver and bile ducts, and pancreatitis.

  • Complications during and after surgery , including delayed wound healing and increased risk of infection, drug interactions, lung complications and breathing difficulties.

  • Further complications during pregnancy and childbirth including miscarriage, and birth defects such as clubfoot, heart defects and gastroschisis (the guts protruding through an opening in the abdominal wall). Smoking in pregnancy also increases the risk of the child being overweight or obese.

  • Childhood cancer (hepatoblastoma) where the mother or both parents smoked before and during pregnancy.

  • Childhood leukaemia where the father or both parents smoked before the pregnancy.

  • Period pain and early menopause in women. Smoking may increase the risk for painful periods, missed periods and irregular periods. Women may also experience more menopausal symptoms.

  • Facial skin wrinkling tends to occur earlier.

  • Skin diseases , such as psoriasis and hidradenitis suppurativa (painful boils or abscesses in the groin and underarm).

  • Increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections , ranging from the common cold through to influenza, pneumonia, meningococcal disease, legionnaires disease, tuberculosis, and bacterial vaginosis.

  • Motor vehicle crashes , death from injury in accidents, house fire deaths, and burn injuries.

  • Alzheimer's disease (dementia) and cognitive (brain function) decline.

  • Autoimmune diseases , including multiple sclerosis.

  • Hearing loss.

  • Poorer sense of smell and taste.

  • Lower fitness.

  • Sleep disorders.

  • More fat around the abdomen (gut), which raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and metabolic problems.

  • Tooth decay and loss , and dental implant failure.

  • In combination with the contraceptive pill , smoking increases a woman's risk of heart attack and stroke. This risk increases dramatically with age, particularly over the age of 35 years.

  • Tobacco smoke can affect how well some medications work. 

Suggested Resources

Quitting smoking fact sheets

Quitting smoking fact sheets and brochures to provide information on quitting services and stop smoking medication to help people who smoke decide how to quit.
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