From National Cancer Control Policy
Tobacco control > Overview

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Key policy priorities in summary

  • Reduce smoking prevalence in the general population.
    • Increase investment in TV-led public education campaigns.
  • Strengthen efforts to reduce tobacco use in groups with high smoking prevalence.
    • Ensure long-term funding and support programs and partnerships that reduce tobacco use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
    • Boost efforts to reduce tobacco use among population groups with high smoking prevalence or at high risk of tobacco related harms.
  • Improve the effectiveness of tobacco taxation policy.
  • Increase support for smoking cessation.
    • Ensure that evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment is offered to every tobacco user in every appropriate interaction with the health system.
  • Regulate the design, contents, labelling and disclosure requirements for tobacco products.
  • Regulate the supply of tobacco products.
  • Eliminate all remaining advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products.
  • Eliminate all exceptions to smoke-free public environments.
  • Regulate new, novel and/or emerging tobacco products to protect non-smokers and vulnerable populations.

The International Agency for Cancer Research classifies tobacco use as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known cause of cancer in humans).[1] Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer burden in Australia, attributable for an estimated 20,933 deaths in 2015.[2] An estimated 22% of cancers in Australia in 2015 were attributable to tobacco use.[3] Up to two out of every three deaths in current smokers can be attributed to smoking.[4]

Tobacco use is a cause of cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver, lung, pancreas, nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, larynx, cervix, ovary, ureter, bladder and kidney, as well as myeloid leukaemia. [1] Lung cancer was the cause of the greatest cancer burden (67%) from tobacco use in Australia in 2011.[5]

Smoking rates in Australia have declined substantially in recent decades. In 1945, 72% of men and 26% of women smoked in Australia.[6][7] By 1991, the proportion of Australians smoking daily declined to 24.3% and declined further to 11% in 2019. [5][8]The latest data showing that the decline between 2016 and 2019 is equivalent to a reduction of approximately 100,000 daily smokers over the 3-year period.[8] Evidence-based tobacco control policies have led to these decreases in smoking rates in Australia, and consequently reductions in tobacco-related deaths,[3][9][10] particularly in lung cancer. Nearly 1.9 million lung cancer deaths will be averted between 2016-2100 if tobacco control measures continue.[11]

This chapter of Cancer Council Australia's National Cancer Prevention Policy presents information about the policy context and evidence-based policy priorities to reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related cancer burden. These include policy measures aimed at reducing tobacco use, including a special focus on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other population groups with a high prevalence of tobacco use. Evidence shows that some population groups in Australia have higher smoking rates than the general community, therefore increasing their risk of developing tobacco-related cancers. [2]The impact of tobacco-related cancers in Australia and evidence on the links between tobacco use and cancer are also outlined.

For further information on the major issues in smoking and health in Australia, see Tobacco facts and issues, produced by Cancer Council Victoria.


  1. 1.0 1.1 International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume 100 E. A review of human carcinogens: Personal habits and indoor combustions. Lyon, France: IARC; 2012 Jan 1 Available from: https://monographs.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono100E.pdf.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Canberra: AIHW; 2019. Report No.: Series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/burden-disease-study-illness-death-2015/contents/table-of-contents.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer in Australia 2019. Canberra: AIHW; 2019 [cited 2020 Apr 29]. Report No.: Cancer series no.119.Cat. no. CAN 123. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/8c9fcf52-0055-41a0-96d9-f81b0feb98cf/aihw-can-123.pdf.aspx?inline=true.
  4. Banks E, Joshy G, Weber MF, Liu B, Grenfell R, Egger S, Paige E, Lopez AD, Sitas F and Beral V. Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence. BMC Medicine ;13:38 Abstract available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/13/38.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011. Canberra: AIHW; 2017 Jun. Report No.: Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 12. Cat. no. BOD 13. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/a1aec7bd-ddb7-416f-9a7e-f2133cd5d4cb/20965.pdf.aspx?inline=true.
  6. Woodward SD. Trends in cigarette consumption in Australia. Aust N Z J Med 1984 Aug;14(4):405-7 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6596048.
  7. Gray NJ, Hill DJ. Patterns of tobacco smoking in Australia. Med J Aust 1975 Nov 29;2(22):819-22 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1207580.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW; 2020 [cited 2020 Jul 29]. Report No.: Drug statistics series no.32. PHE 270. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/3564474e-f7ad-461c-b918-7f8de03d1294/aihw-phe-270-NDSHS-2019.pdf.aspx?inline=true.
  9. Wakefield MA, Durkin S, Spittal MJ, Siahpush M, Scollo M, Simpson JA, et al. Impact of tobacco control policies and mass media campaigns on monthly adult smoking prevalence. Am J Public Health 2008 Aug;98(8):1443-50 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18556601.
  10. National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: The healthiest country by 2020. Technical report 2 - Tobacco control in Australia: Making smoking history. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2009.
  11. Luo Q, Steinberg J, O'Connell DL, Yu XQ, Caruana M, Wade S, et al. Lung cancer mortality in Australia in the twenty-first century: How many lives can be saved with effective tobacco control? Lung Cancer 2019 Apr;130:208-215 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30885346.