18 June 2019

Disease burden of smoking is no longer falling

Clinical Smoking

In the battle against smoking, Australia seems to have reached an impasse, anti-smoking advocates say.

According to the latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, tobacco remains the single largest cause of disease burden at 9.3%, which is exactly the same as it was at the last review three years ago.

The report, entitled Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015, found that in 2015 as much as 4.8 million years of healthy life was lost, half through living with illness and half through dying prematurely.

And while this sounds horrendous in terms of disease burden, it actually represents a major improvement on figures from an earlier report back in 2003. Australians are living longer and are healthier.

The fatal burden is actually 20% better in 2015, with far fewer people dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, stroke and bowel cancer.

The burden from non-fatal disease also improved, but only by 2%.

Depressingly, the report states that at least one third of the disease burden remains preventable with smoking still being the number one culprit.

The researchers estimate smoking contributes to at least one fifth of the cancers and more than 40% of the respiratory diseases. (The next biggest risk factor being obesity).

The report findings have galvanised the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association to renew calls for the Australian government to address the country’s smoking rate as a matter of urgency. They point to a number of recent surveys that show that Australia’s smoking rate has remained stagnant since 2013.

Director of the association, Conjoint Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, says “With 19,000 smoking-related deaths each year this is an urgent but neglected health priority.”

If Australia really wants to get serious about reducing this burden of disease caused by smoking it needs to legalise vaping, the association claims. Not only is it a less harmful alternative, recent studies have found that vaping is two to three times as effective as nicotine replacement therapy in helping smokers to quit, the association says.

“Australia remains the only Western democracy to ban the sale and use of nicotine for vaping,” it says.

In September 2018, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced an independent inquiry into the health impacts of nicotine e-cigarettes.

However, to the disappointment and frustration of vaping advocates, that was the last anybody has heard on the subject.