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Of all the risk factors for ill health, tobacco smoking is responsible for the greatest burden on the health of Australians, accounting for 9.7% of the total burden of disease in 1996 (see The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia for more detail).

Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • peripheral vascular disease
  • numerous cancers including cancers of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, larynx, kidney, pancreas, bladder, stomach and cervix
  • and other diseases and conditions.

In 1998, an estimated 19,019 people died in Australia as a result of tobacco smoking. Around 13% of deaths from cardiovascular disease are due to smoking tobacco. In 1997-98, 142,525 hospital separations were attributable to tobacco smoking.

How many Australians smoke?

Results from the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that, for Australians aged 14 years and over:

  • Approximately 3.1 million people (19.5%) smoked on a daily basis. This is the first time that the prevalence of daily smoking has dropped below 20%.
  • A further 3.6% (around 600,000 people) reported occasional smoking and so were also at risk of developing heart disease and other chronic conditions from smoking tobacco products.
  • 21% of males and 18% of females were daily smokers.
  • Among teenagers aged 14-19 years, 14% of boys and 16% of girls smoked daily.

Smoking rates among Australian adults have declined steadily since the early 1970s, and this trend has continued into the 1990s. The greatest decline between 1998 and 2001 was among those aged 20-29 years. Research form the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria shows the rate of decline of current smokers has slowed in more recent years.

Further information

Alcohol and other drugs

The Cancer Council of Victoria

Passive smoking

Passive smoking is breathing in environmental tobacco smoke, which consists of sidestream smoke directly from the burning tobacco and exhaled mainstream smoke.

The following health problems have been associated with passive smoking:

  • asthma in children
  • lower respiratory tract infections
  • lung cancer
  • coronary heart disease.