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Smokers think health harms overstated

Posted 14 Dec, 2016

One in three Victorian smokers believe the dangers of smoking have been exaggerated, Cancer Council research shows.

A large study by Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer found:

  • One in three smokers (33%) believe the dangers of smoking have been exaggerated, compared to fewer than one in seven Victorian adults (15%);
  • More than one in 10 smokers (12%) either did not believe, or did not know, if smoking causes illnesses;
  • When asked what illnesses were caused by smoking, three-quarters of current smokers cited either lung cancer or cancer;
  • There was low spontaneous recall of other illnesses caused by smoking including heart disease (18%), stroke (7%), gangrene (5%), asthma (3%) and complications in pregnancy (0.6%).

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said the findings were deeply concerning, given smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia and kills more than 15,000 people each year.

“There are few things more dangerous than smoking – and that’s no exaggeration,” Dr White said.

“It’s worrying that smokers are not fully appreciating the serious and widespread harms caused by their habit, so may not attach a sense of urgency to quitting.”

Heart Foundation Victoria CEO Kellie-Ann Jolly said smoking greatly increased a person’s risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke, yet less than one in five Victorian smokers understood the link to heart disease and one in 14 understood the link to stroke.

“There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking clogs and narrows coronary arteries and reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, meaning your heart must pump harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs.”

Ms Jolly stated that despite achievements in reducing smoking rates overall, an understanding of the dangers caused by smoking were not distributed equally across the state.

Findings showed smokers living in low socioeconomic areas were less likely to nominate heart disease as an illness caused by smoking (13%), compared to those living in middle (20%) or high socioeconomic (21%) areas.

Health bodies say there is a need to increase public awareness about the negative health effects of smoking, particularly in vulnerable communities.

The research showed that since 2011, smokers have become less likely to recall major illnesses caused by smoking, which suggested that negative health effects may be slipping from front of mind.

Dr White said: “Funding for anti-smoking advertisements on television has declined over this period, and may explain this trend.

“We know that frequent, highly emotive television advertisements stressing the negative effects of smoking are especially effective at motivating smokers to quit, and preventing young people from taking up the habit.

“We urge state and federal governments to keep the downward pressure on smoking rates and ensure disadvantaged groups are not left behind by making mass media campaigns a funding priority in coming years.”


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