$136 billion goes ‘up in smoke’ every year

| October 24, 2019

While investment in strategies to prevent and reduce smoking in Australia has helped drive a sustained decline in smoking rates, there is no room for complacency with smoking currently costing the Australian community at least $136.9 billion a year, according to new research.

The new national estimate of the economic and social costs of smoking found that in the 2015-2016 financial year, smoking was responsible for $19.2 billion in direct tangible costs, including smokers buying cigarettes, reduced productivity, worker absence, the cost of caring for someone with a smoking-related disease, and hospital admissions to treat smoking-related conditions.

Intangible costs due to smoking, including years of life lost from premature death and lost quality of life from living with a serious illness, were estimated at a massive $117.7 billion.

One in eight Australians smoke daily, and tobacco is responsible for 20,000 preventable deaths each year, the equivalent of a smoking-related death every 26 minutes.

The new research, Identifying the social costs of tobacco use to Australia in 2015/16, published by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University in Perth, is the first national update in 15 years of the cost of smoking. It is substantially higher than the 2004 estimate of $31.5 billion as it uses up-to-date methodology for calculating costs and includes a number of previously uncounted costs.

The national research team was led by NDRI and included experts from the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies at University of Adelaide, Quit Victoria, the Australian National University in Canberra, and the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University in Adelaide.

NDRI researcher Dr Robert Tait explained that factors contributing to the increase in the latest estimate included higher costs of medical care, advances in research methods allowing more costs to be quantified, medical research establishing new links between smoking and diseases, and a growing and ageing population.

“These offset some of the gains from fewer people smoking,” Dr Tait said. “In addition, we are still seeing the effects of smoking from years and perhaps decades ago, because of the lead-time for many conditions associated with smoking.”

NDRI Professor Steve Allsop said that while smoking rates had declined substantially from a peak of 37 per cent in the mid-1970s to 12 per cent now, this research showed the need for continued investment in public health strategies to prevent smoking and to support smokers to quit.

“Tobacco continues to cause a significant toll in premature death, suffering, reduced quality of life and real financial costs in Australia,” said Professor Allsop.

“More than two-thirds of deaths among smokers are due to their tobacco use, and the health impacts and costs of smoking continue to be high. Effective strategies to reduce smoking still have the potential to substantially reduce medical costs, improve the quality of life of smokers and their families and reduce costs to the whole community.

“It is imperative that we continue to reduce the prevalence of smoking and to limit the exposure of non-smokers to its toxic effects.”

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