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Why it’s not just up to smokers to ‘Commit to Quit’ this World No Tobacco Day

May 31, 2021

Why it’s not just up to smokers to ‘Commit to Quit’ this World No Tobacco Day

Annually, World No Tobacco Day draws attention to the entirely preventable ill health and unnecessary deaths caused by tobacco use across the world. In Australia – we have some things to celebrate. We have achieved record low levels of smoking with just over 1 in 10 Australians adults smoking every day and cigarette smoking among teenagers now extremely uncommon, with around 97% of 14-to-17-year-olds having never smoked. 

However, smoking is still Australia’s biggest preventable cause of cancer causing over 15,000 cases each year. A recent study from the Daffodil Centre showed that even 'light' smokers of 1-5 cigarettes per day had an almost 10-fold increased risk of lung cancer and smokers had a significantly increased risk of 12 cancer types.

Smoking also causes a range of other health problems and up to two in three long term smokers die as a result of their smoking. We need to do more to continue to drive down the number of people who smoke and consider our roles in delivering on the World No Tobacco Day 2021 theme of Commit to Quit.

The Commit to Quit theme is almost inevitably interpreted as a plea to smokers to take steps towards quitting. Certainly, it is important to ensure that smokers seeking to quit have the support and resources to do so. However, if we only focus on supporting individual smokers to quit, we fail to recognise the important role comprehensive population level tobacco control measures play in discouraging people from taking up smoking and in enabling and supporting smokers to quit.

Australia has an impressive track record in taking a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. We have led the world in implementing mass media campaigns, smoke free spaces, advertising bans (including plain packaging), pricing, and in providing support to individual smokers to quit. Now it is time to build on our success.

The Commit to Quit theme is much bigger than individual smokers and requires coordinated, population level action and interventions. We are eagerly awaiting the release of the National Tobacco Strategy and look forward to partnering with governments across the country as part of the coordinated and comprehensive approach the strategy will provide. Such coordinated evidence-based action has been behind Australia’s success in reducing smoking rates to date. It is time for all Australian governments – the Federal government, State and Territory governments and local governments – to Commit to Quit.

While the evidence is clear that mass media campaigns are one of the most effective means of driving quitting, investment in campaigns by all Australian governments has significantly declined over the last decade. The federal government has allocated funding for a national tobacco campaign and now it is time for them to Commit to Quit and begin to deliver the campaign this calendar year. State and Territory governments also have a responsibility to supplement a national tobacco campaign and provide adequate support for smokers to quit.

State and Territory governments also have the opportunity to Commit to Quit by addressing the widespread availability of tobacco in Australia – cigarettes can be purchased at more places than bread or milk. Tobacco licensing schemes regulate the retail availability and supply of tobacco products and go a long way in reducing availability and assisting individual smokers to Commit to Quit. We need robust licensing schemes in every State and Territory, and State and Territory governments need to adequately resource the monitoring and enforcement required to ensure the success of the schemes.

All levels of government are urged to take action and to Commit to Quit by delivering evidence-based programs to address unacceptably high smoking rates in some groups in our community. Smoking rates are much higher for Australians who live in rural and remote areas, and those who experience mental illness or substance use disorders. And while we have seen tremendous and sustained improvements in smoking rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, there is a clear and pressing need to support and expand programs like Tackling Indigenous Smoking to achieve further declines. Sustained investment in targeted programs, supported by a fully funded national tobacco campaign would go a long way to address these glaring inequities.