Smoking and tobacco control
Tobacco smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. Smoking leads to a wide range of diseases including many types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, chest and lung illnesses and stomach ulcers. It claims the lives of 15,500 Australians every year.
Reducing smoking-related death and illness is a priority of Cancer Council Australia. Our Tobacco Issues Committee has developed a number of position statements, some of which are aimed at helping individuals reduce smoking-related health risk and others of which support Cancer Council's key tobacco-related advocacy priorities.
Members of the Tobacco Issues Committee include representatives of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, the Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH), and public health experts, as well as Cancer Councils around Australia and the New Zealand Cancer Society.
Passive smoking causes early death and health problems in children and adults who do not smoke. A smoke-free environment is the only way to fully protect non-smokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
This position statement explains passive smoking and its health effects. It highlights the particular danger to hospitality workers and details public support for smoke-free workplaces and public spaces. The statement includes recommendations for reducing health risk by avoiding tobacco smoke.
Stopping smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits, reducing risk of disease and improving general health. While there is no ‘easy fix’ for quitting smoking, there are a number of methods and products available that may help.
This position statement outlines various approaches to stopping smoking and provides general recommendations to assist smokers planning to quit.
Dangers of 'reduced-harm' cigarettes
For many years, thousands of Australians smoked ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes in the belief they were consuming products that were less harmful than regular brands. The evidence, however, showed that smoking ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes was just as harmful as consuming regular brands.
In 2005, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission determined that the promotion of ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes was misleading and ordered that such brands be withdrawn from sale and that the tobacco industry fund compensatory advertising for its deceptive conduct.
Despite the experience of ‘light’ and ‘mild’ brands, the tobacco industry continues to claim that it is developing cigarettes that are less harmful, with some of these products already available overseas. There is insufficient regulation to prevent so-called ‘reduced-harm’ cigarettes from becoming available in Australia.
This position statement summarises the evidence that shows there is no such thing as an independently verified ‘reduced-harm’ cigarette. It includes key recommendations for helping to ensure Australians are not misled into consuming ‘reduced-harm’ cigarettes, including the need for government to establish a mechanism to ensure that any communication about cigarettes – including about their contents or emissions – is evidence-based, complete and in the public interest.
Smoking in movies: countering its negative impact on public health
Smoking in movies glamorises and promotes nicotine addiction. Following restrictions to tobacco advertising over recent years, the tobacco industry has increasingly seen film as a medium for promoting its products.
Measures are therefore required to address the negative impact on public health of the depiction of smoking in movies.
This position statement explores the evidence base and history of smoking in movies, summarises the key points and includes recommendations from Cancer Council on how government and non-government organisations can act to reduce the preventable death and disease caused by the promotion of tobacco use through film.
Plain packaging of tobacco products
Following increased restrictions on traditional forms of tobacco advertising and promotion in Australia, the cigarette pack has become an increasingly important marketing tool and means of communicating brand quality and image to potential and current smokers.
Reforms to how tobacco products are promoted through packaging are essential to reducing the unacceptable level of death and disability caused by smoking in Australia.
A recent review of the evidence examines research over two decades and across five countries on plain packaging. The review includes results of 24 published studies which have examined the likely impact of plain packaging on young people and current smokers. It also summarises the results of research analysing industry arguments about barriers to legislation resulting from international law and trade agreements.
While smoking rates across Australia have declined substantially over the past decades to around 13% of the population, among the most disadvantaged groups rates are up to five times higher than the population average.
This means that the most disadvantaged groups in Australia bear a disproportionate share of tobacco-related illness.
Reducing smoking rates in these populations is an important and pressing public health issue. This position statement outlines effective strategies for reducing the tobacco-related disease burden in the most highly disadvantaged groups.
Cancer Council and the National Heart Foundation of Australia recommend the proper regulation of non-nicotine electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), particularly for the protection of young people, ensuring smoke-free laws cover e-cigarette emissions and prohibiting advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes.
On the potential risks and benefits of e-cigarettes as a nicotine delivery device, Cancer Council is one of five signatories on a summary statement coordinated by Cancer Australia, which recommends deferring to Australia's independent National Health and Medical Research Council on the scientific evidence review and the Therapeutic Goods Administration on matters of product regulation.
Mental health services and smoking
Mental health services should be encouraged to routinely ask all clients about their smoking status and offer evidence-based tailored cessation support. As part of this process services should review their policies on smoking to create supportive smoke-free environments to protect both staff and clients from second-hand smoke and to support smokers who are trying to quit.
Consistent with recovery principles, these supports and policies should be developed in partnership with people with a lived experience of mental health issues, their family members and carers, and service provider staff.
This position statement comprises a number of additional recommendations on smoking and mental health services and the evidence on which they are based.
Addressing smoke infiltration in multi-unit housing
Reducing the palatability of tobacco products
The composition of tobacco products remains largely unregulated in Australia. This leaves tobacco companies considerable scope to manipulate products in order to maximise their attractiveness to new smokers, and make it more difficult for smokers to quit.
The use of flavourings, such as menthol, and masking agents disguise the harsh taste and unpleasant odour of tobacco and may increase the addictiveness of nicotine. Similarly, various cigarette design features such as filter ventilation are often used to increase the palatability of cigarettes, making them more attractive and creating a misleading perception of reduced harm.
Cancer Council recommends prohibiting the use of flavourings, masking agents and filter design features that increase the palatability and appeal of tobacco products in order to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use.
Explore how our advocacy is making cancer history