Public Release: 

Reducing Australia's cancer death rate

New research shows effect of cutting smoking and drinking at population level

La Trobe University

New research has revealed for the first time what impact cutting back on drinking and smoking as a population would have on Australia's cancer death rate.

Researchers from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), La Trobe University, found reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption rates as a nation would significantly reduce future cancer deaths.

The researchers used health and consumer data dating back to the 1930s to establish the link between population-level smoking and drinking rates and cancer mortality.

They found:

  • Smoking half a kilogram less tobacco annually per capita would reduce Australia's overall cancer deaths by 8 per cent over 20 years;

  • Drinking three litres less alcohol annually per capita would reduce Australia's overall cancer deaths by 12 per cent over 20 years.

Lead researcher Dr Jason Jiang said understanding the impact on a population level was important.

"We know that there is a strong link between an individual's use of alcohol and tobacco and their risk of cancer, but few studies have looked at the impact from a national perspective," Dr Jiang said.

"What we now have is evidence of the longer term health benefits of taking a collective approach to reducing smoking and drinking.

"Public health advocates and policymakers on tobacco and alcohol should work together to minimise the adverse health effects on cancer of these two risky behaviours."

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Chief Executive Michael Thorn said the study provides further evidence that a reduction in per capita alcohol consumption would flow through to reductions in cancer deaths.

"The problem unfortunately is that too few Australians are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, or understand the Government drinking guidelines which state how best to avoid those risks," Mr Thorn said.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper, said research like this reinforced the need for greater education about the risks associated with smoking and alcohol consumption.

"There remains work to be done on both fronts. To continue to see decreases in smoking rates it is vital population-wide education campaigns occur at sustained and effective levels," Mr Harper said.

Mr Harper also expressed concern about a lack of community knowledge on the harms of alcohol.

"The lack of community knowledge of the harm alcohol can cause is particularly worrying, especially given many Australians are unknowingly drinking at levels which can damage their health, and increase their risk of eight types of cancer," Mr Harper said.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, expands on a study conducted last year by Dr Jiang and colleagues that found reducing alcohol consumption would reduce liver, pancreatic, head and neck cancer rates.

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Media contact: Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464

The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) is an innovative, world-class research facility examining alcohol-related harms and the effectiveness of alcohol-related policies. The Centre, which receives funding from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and La Trobe University, is led by Professor Emmanuel Kuntsche and Professor Robin Room. To find out more visit http://www.capr.edu.au

La Trobe University is an Australian public institute founded in 1964. In 1967, 552 students enrolled at La Trobe University, the third university to open in Victoria. It has grown to accommodate more than 30,000 students including approximately 7,600 international students from over 90 countries. It now has a network of campuses with 21,000 students at our Melbourne campus and over 5,900 at our campuses in Albury-Wodonga, Bendigo, Mildura, Melbourne City, and Shepparton. http://www.latrobe.edu.au/

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to stop the harm caused by alcohol. Alcohol harm in Australia is significant. Over 5,500 lives are lost every year and more than 157,000 people are hospitalised making alcohol one of our nation's greatest preventive health challenges. To find out more visit http://www.fare.org.au.

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