Price hikes another reason for Victorian smokers to QUIT

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Australian cigarette prices rose by 12.5 per cent on September 1, which equates to an increase of around 10 cents per stick and $3.50 per pack of 25. A pack a day smoker will now be spending close to $922 a month which includes an increase in tax of $100 a month. Tax now represents 69 per cent of the prices of cigarettes.

Rather than ban cigarettes, Australia has followed a ‘quit or die’ approach, and increasing prices has been an effective strategy to reduce smoking rates. Since 2008, cigarette prices have doubled in this country and are now the highest in the world.  This latest rise was the second for the year and further rises are expected in 2019 and in 2020.

Victorians have shown great success in reducing smoking rates over recent decades. Quit Victoria is concerned about complacency and wants to help smokers kick the uniquely addictive habit that kills two out of three from a smoking-related disease.

Earlier this year, Quit Victoria launched Target 2025 a bold campaign to fast-track the reduction of smoking rates.  Led by peak body Quit Victoria, the initiative is backed by 24 of the State’s leading health organisations including the Australian Medical Association, Heart Foundation and several universities as a push for stricter anti-smoking laws and more education programs.

The campaign will be supported by the state government’s VicHealth body to achieve a goal of just five per cent of all Victorians smoking daily by 2025.

There are still 750,000 Victorians who currently smoke, which is 13.7 per cent of the state’s population. Quit Victoria director Dr Sarah White said in a statement that the five per cent goal is achievable and would ultimately save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Victorians and the state economy an estimated $4.042 billion in total tangible costs over the next seven years.

High on the list of costs is the misery and financial impact caused by tobacco related life-threatening diseases – mainly heart illnesses – which are currently eight per cent of the total disease in Victoria.

A recent Victorian Cancer Council research report indicates that as many as two-thirds of Australian smokers will die prematurely, around 10 years earlier on average, due mainly to heart diseases, compared to people who have never smoked. “If the daily smoking rate reached five per cent, the heart health of nearly half a million Victorians would benefit,” White explains.

These statistics must give cause for young adult smokers to pause and think seriously about quitting. The Cancer Council report found that the largest age demographic of existing smokers is regular smokers in the young adult category aged 18-29 years.

In focusing on the immediate and long-term benefits, Heart Foundation CEO Kellie-Ann Jolly said “Within one day of quitting, a person’s heart rate slows down, their blood pressure drops slightly and oxygen levels in their blood rise. Within a year, they halve their risk of heart attack and stroke. In two to six years, their risk of developing heart disease is equal to that of a non-smoker. Quitting cigarettes is one of the best ways people can reduce their risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, while also protecting those around them from the risks of passive smoking.”

As well as the health benefits, Quit Victoria estimates that each of the state’s current smokers who quits would have an extra $1000-$7000 available each year of their lives. From a broader social and economic perspective, quitting would eliminate billions of dollars in smoking related health care costs including hospital and medical costs, and also workforce labour costs, such as absenteeism, staff reductions due to untimely departures, and smoking breaks.

Diagrams Courtesy of Quit Victoria.

Speaking with Shannon Crane, media manager from Quit Victoria, reaching the target will involve eliminating the uptake of youth smoking and increasing the number of adult smokers quitting successfully. “To do this, we must use TV-led public education campaigns, end remaining forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products and reduce the widespread availability and visibility of tobacco products,” Crane said.

Since 2000, Quit anti-smoking mass media campaigns have been led primarily by TV advertisements, to appeal to all age groups. The Quit Facebook and Twitter channels also take the quit message to smokers.

Certain demographics will need particular attention, for example, people with mental illness, people who identify as LGBTI and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities whose smoking populations around 38 percent are nearly three times the state’s average. These groups will benefit from working directly with representatives from these communities, and integrating quit therapies as a matter of routine into Victoria’s healthcare system.

Smoking is estimated to cause one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths. Dave Hunt/AAP

There is also work to be done with the Government to close remaining loopholes in smoke-free legislation and ensure regulation remains effective through price and other controls.

The topic of non-factory made cigarettes such as electronic cigarettes remains controversial. Researchers, and Quit, view e-cigarettes as not ideal according to the ‘quit or die’ approach, but recognise that non-nicotine e-cigarettes have helped people in their quit journey. Nicotine e-cigarettes are banned in Australia, even though 95 per cent less harmful than their factory-made counterpart. Philip Morris managing director Tammy Chan has said, “The key element to truly achieving a smoke-free society is allowing current smokers to have access to better alternatives to cigarettes, such as personal vaporisers and other smokeless tobacco products.”

It would seem cigarette price rises are not going away and financial pressure will continue to build for smokers who find it hard to quit. Switching to a less harmful, legal alternative is one option, and support is just a phone call or web click away via Quit Victoria.

Quit has been the principal agency for population-level tobacco control in Victoria for 30 years. As a unit of Cancer Council Victoria, Quit is funded primarily by VicHealth and the Department of Health and Human Services. Quit draws on Cancer Council resources and expertise and works closely with the Heart Foundation (Victoria), plus other Cancer Councils, Heart Foundation divisions and tobacco control counterparts around Australia and internationally.

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