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12 Apr 2019

New research from the Cancer Council suggests 100,000 lung cancer deaths could be avoided this century if smoking rates are reduced to 10 per cent by 2025.

Currently, more than 12 per cent of Australians are daily smokers. An additional three per cent smoke less frequently.

Cancer Council NSW research shows that if the smoking rates for all smokers could be reduced to 10 per cent by 2025, a total of 97,432 lung cancer deaths could be avoided by 2100.

If smoking rates are reduced to five per cent, more than 200,000 lung cancer deaths would be prevented. Recent Australian data, however, shows the decline in smoking rates has slowed.

Cancer Council Australia is calling for a national comprehensive tobacco control strategy that includes:

  • Set targets to achieve declines in smoking prevalence;
  • Renewed and significant national investment in hard-hitting anti-tobacco ads like the ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’ campaign; and
  • New laws to regulate product design and ingredients to stop the tobacco industry finding new ways to entice new young smokers.

Anita Dessaix, Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Public Health Committee, said while not all lung cancers are caused by smoking, tobacco remained the biggest preventable factor behind Australia’s number one cancer killer.

“Smoking doesn’t just cause most lung cancers, it also causes many other cancer types, as well as cardiovascular disease, emphysema and multiple other chronic and fatal conditions,” she said.

“Around 2.5 million Australians still smoke and two in three of them will die prematurely from smoking if they don’t quit.

“This study just shows the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential number of lives the next Australian Government, in fact all state and territory governments, could save if tobacco control was made a priority again.

“With an election campaign imminent, federal MPs and candidates have an ideal opportunity to show their commitment to reducing smoking in our communities based on doing more of what works.”

The latest research findings also coincide with an Australian Government review of tobacco legislation.

Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW, said the good news was the new study estimated that previous tobacco control measures introduced since 1956 had already saved almost 79,000 people from dying from a preventable lung cancer.

“Smoking rates halved over the past 25 years. This study highlights the amazing impact of previous measures such as tobacco taxation, plain packaging, smoke-free legislation, mass media campaigns and restrictions on advertising, as well as greater awareness about the benefits of quitting smoking,” Professor Canfell said.

“The indications are that tobacco control measures have put us on a trajectory to potentially save almost two million lives from lung cancer alone by 2100.

“To ultimately reach this goal we need to ensure that the Government commitment to tobacco control continues. We must ensure Australians remain motivated to quit.”

Lung cancer mortality in Australia in the twenty-first century: how many lives can be saved with effective tobacco control? is a study by Cancer Council NSW researchers published in Lung Cancer.

The aim of this study was to estimate the number of past and future lung cancer deaths that have already been averted by tobacco control initiatives in Australia, and to estimate the number of additional deaths that could be averted under various smoking scenarios.

Researchers predicted lung cancer mortality rates and numbers of deaths to 2100 using a previously validated generalised linear model based on age, birth cohort and population cigarette smoking exposure. They estimated the impact of various tobacco control scenarios: ‘actual tobacco control’ (incorporating changing smoking behaviours including those related to the aggregate effect of past and current taxation, plain packaging, mass media campaigns and other initiatives) and scenarios where 10 per cent, 5 per cent and 0 per cent smoking prevalence was achieved by 2025, all of which were compared to a counterfactual scenario with the highest historical smoking consumption level continuing into the future as if no tobacco control initiatives had been implemented.

Without behaviour change and the contribution of tobacco control, there would have been an estimated 392,116 lung cancer deaths over the period 1956-2015; of these 20 per cent (78,925 deaths; 75,839 males, 3,086 females) have been averted due to tobacco control. However, if past and current measures continue to have the expected effect and behavioural trends continue, an estimated 1.9 million deaths (1,579,515 males, 320,856 females; 67 per cent of future lung cancer deaths) will be averted in 2016-2100. If smoking prevalence is reduced to 10 per cent, 5 per cent or 0 per cent by 2025, an additional 97,432, 208,714 or 360,557 deaths could be averted from 2016 to 2100, respectively.

Tobacco control in Australia has had a dramatic impact on the number of people dying from lung cancer. Several hundred thousand more lung cancer deaths could be averted over the course of the century if close-to-zero smoking prevalence could be achieved in the next decade


Published: 12 Apr 2019