Tobacco use linked to more than 1 in 8 deaths, but burden easing

Tobacco use contributed to an estimated 21,000 deaths, or more than 1 in 8 fatalities, in Australia during 2015, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Burden of Tobacco use in Australia, used burden of disease analysis to study the impact of smoking on the population in terms of premature death (the fatal burden) and years lived in ill health (the non-fatal burden).

‘Tobacco use remains the leading risk factor for ill health and premature death in Australia and was responsible for 9.3% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2015,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr. Richard Juckes.

‘Almost three-quarters of the burden due to smoking was fatal.

‘Forty-three per cent of the tobacco-related disease burden was due to cancer and most of this was from lung cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease accounted for 30% of the burden, coronary heart disease 10% and stroke 3.1%.’

Burden of disease from tobacco use was highest in the Northern Territory and in more remote parts of Australia. People living in the lowest socioeconomic areas experienced rates of tobacco burden 2.6 times those of people living in the highest socioeconomic areas.

Together, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use contributed to 18% of deaths in Australia in 2015, equivalent to about 28,500 deaths.

The good news from the report is that after accounting for population increase and ageing, the rate of disease burden due to tobacco use fell between 2003 and 2015 by 24%.

‘This pattern is predicted to continue, with the overall burden expected to fall by another 10% by 2025,’ Mr. Juckes said.

Despite positive trends in the burden from smoking, different patterns emerge when considering whether the smoking is current or in the past.

‘While the burden associated with current smoking fell, the burden linked to past smoking rose by 15%. This is probably because some of the diseases associated with smoking—such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease­—can take many years to develop,’ Mr. Juckes said.

Australia has made significant progress in reducing smoking rates, with the daily smoking rate almost halving since the early 1990s. In 2016, 12% of Australians smoked daily—one of the lowest rates among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

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