Public Release: 

The numbers are in: 1.8 millions Australian smokers likely to die from their habit

University of Melbourne

The research, published today in the international journal BMC Medicine, is an important reminder about the extreme hazards of smoking.

"While Australia is a world leader in tobacco control, the battle to reduce the public health consequences of tobacco use is far from over," Laureate Professor Alan Lopez, Director, of the Global Burden of Disease Group, University of Melbourne said.

Higher tobacco prices have been shown to be one of the most effective interventions available to governments to reduce demand for tobacco.

Professor Lopez, one of the study authors said Australia could be proud of its remarkable success in cutting population smoking to just 13 percent from over 70 percent among men just after World War Two.

"While this is gratifying, it is still 13 percent too many; 2.7 million Australians still smoke," Professor Lopez said.

"Our findings revealed that up to two in every three Australians who smoke can be expected to die from their habit if they don't quit. Their risk of dropping dead at any age is three times that of non-smokers," he said.

"These are enormous risks and highlight the importance of government staying the course on tobacco control. Local tobacco control policy ought to be more responsive to this new and compelling local evidence," he said.

The findings are the first large scale direct evidence on the health hazards of smoking in Australia and are based on a four-year analysis of health outcomes.

More than 200,000 people from the general population participated in the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study in Sydney.

Professor Emily Banks, Scientific Director of the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study and the lead investigator of the research said the findings almost exactly confirmed the results of studies in the UK and the USA where people had been smoking long enough to kill themselves in large numbers.

"It is a huge wake-up call for Australia. We know smoking is the cause of a wide range of diseases but we now have direct evidence from Australia that shows just how hazardous it is. Even ten cigarettes a day will double your risk of dying prematurely. Smokers greatly underestimate or do not understand the seriousness of these risks," she said.

Smoking remains a major cause of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease and causes about one-quarter of deaths from cancer.

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The research was supported by the National Heart Foundation and other partner organisations, both locally and internationally.

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