Smoking target ‘cannot be achieved’ on current trends: Study

Jolyon Attwooll

30/05/2023 4:44:06 PM

Researchers say more investment is needed to ensure the country gets back on track to reduce smoking rate to 5% of adults.

Ash tray
Investment is urgently needed to ensure smoking rates continue to fall as hoped, according to researchers.

A plan to cut adult smoking rates in Australia to 5% by 2030 is likely to fall short by several years, the authors of new research have warned.
The target, which also forms part of the recently published National Tobacco Strategy 2023–30, will not be met according to modelling carried out by the Daffodil Centre, a joint venture between Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney.
Their research was published this month in the Tobacco Control journal.
The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicate around one in 10 adults (10.1%) smoked in 2021–22.
However, while smoking has fallen significantly in recent decades – with more than one in four adults (26%) recorded as smokers as recently as 1998 – plans to halve the current rate by the end of the decade are not on track, the article suggests.
‘[The] 5% adult daily smoking prevalence target cannot be achieved by the year 2030 based on current trends,’ the authors wrote.
‘Urgent investment in concerted strategies that prevent smoking initiation and facilitate cessation is necessary to achieve 5% prevalence by 2030.’
The researchers looked at three different scenarios based on smoking initiation and cessation trends continuing on the same trajectory as 2017, staying constant, or being reversed.
If the current trends remain in place, they say the target will only be reached in 2039 – and a further delay until 2066 is possible if the impact of existing tobacco controls fades.
The study says a ‘best-case’ scenario would mean a 5% rate could be achieved by 2037.
Professor Nick Zwar, Chair of the RACGP’s smoking cessation guidelines’ Expert Advisory Group, agrees that without further action the target is likely to be missed.
However, he remains hopeful of an improved outlook.
‘The recently released National Tobacco Strategy 2023–2030 sets out actions, proposed by the Government at the Commonwealth level, which could change that situation,’ he told newsGP.  
He says planned massed media campaigns and investment into quit lines are likely to make a difference.
‘The policy statements I think are positive,’ he said. ‘It’ll be whether it’s followed through.’
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler also recently announced a clampdown on illegal vaping products, saying that young people who vape are three times as likely to use tobacco, and that under-25s are the only cohort where smoking rates are increasing. 
Funding worth $737 million was included in the recent Federal Budget for measures to counter harms caused by tobacco and vaping products.
Professor Zwar welcomes the harder line against vaping, which he describes as more alarming every time new statistics come out.
‘Some people would argue against this, but I think the evidence has become clear that starting nicotine vaping can progress to tobacco smoking,’ he said.
‘The exact proportion who go down that pathway, people might debate, but I think that is happening.’
However, he remains circumspect about the authorities’ chances of success in reducing the existing black market.
‘You wouldn’t want to underestimate how hard it is going to be to do that,’ he said.
Whatever the impact of the clampdown, Professor Zwar believes the role of general practice will remain pivotal to reducing the smoking rate.
‘It remains important that GPs ask about smoking, [that] they document smoking, they also talk about vaping and document that too, and offer assistance for people who either smoke or vape – because if we don’t ask, we won’t know,’ he said.
‘There can be a tendency to think tobacco is solved, [that] not many people smoke in Australia anymore.
‘But tobacco remains a major cause of premature death and illness, particularly amongst population groups such as Indigenous Australians and people with a mental health problem.’
The RACGP’s globally-recognised smoking cessation guidelines for GPs to help patients quit are available on the college’s website.
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