Drinking, smoking bans saved 36,000 lives

Tobacco accounts for one in eight deaths in Australia. Picture: Getty
Tobacco accounts for one in eight deaths in Australia. Picture: Getty

LAWS curbing smoking and drinking in Australia helped save 36,000 lives and reduced total cancer deaths by five per cent, new research claims.

The study commissioned by the La Trobe Centre for Alcohol Policy Research looks at the introduction of new policies – such as banning cigarette ads on TV and radio – and the variations in deaths for head, neck, lung or liver cancer, among others.

The report found random breath testing is linked to a reduction in drinking across the population and the prevention of more than 6000 deaths between the 1980s and 2013.

Liquor licence liberalisation in the 1960s, on the other hand, was associated with increases in the level of drinking across the population and a 0.6 per cent rise in male cancer mortality.

“Our research provides new evidence that key public health policies on alcohol and tobacco introduced in Australia from the 1960s to 2013 are related to reductions in mortality rates for various cancers,” lead researcher Dr Jason Jiang said.

“We hope these findings will also help Australians make more informed decisions on their alcohol and tobacco consumption.”

The research analysed 100 years of data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Cancer Council Victoria, the WHO Cancer Mortality Database and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

It’s the first study to look at how public health policies on alcohol and tobacco – implemented in Australia from the 1960s – have affected cancer deaths rates.

These findings are backed by Cancer Australia, which in 2015 reported than more than five per cent of cancer cases in Australia each year are attributable to long-term chronic use of alcohol.

It also defines tobacco as “the greatest preventable cause of cancer,” identifying it as responsible for 22.1 per cent of the total burden of disease in cancer in 2015.

“It’s clear from our findings that the full effect of more recent policies, such as plain cigarette packaging and alcohol content labelling of beverages, may not be known for decades,” Dr Jiang said.

“It’s important to evaluate what works, what doesn’t, and where to invest future funding.”