Key policy priorities in summary
The International Agency for Cancer Research classifies tobacco use as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known cause of cancer in humans). Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer burden in Australia, attributable for an estimated 20,933 deaths in 2015. An estimated 22% of cancers in Australia in 2015 were attributable to tobacco use. Up to two out of every three deaths in current smokers can be attributed to smoking.
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.  Lung cancer was the cause of the greatest cancer burden (67%) from tobacco use in Australia in 2011.
Smoking rates in Australia have declined substantially in recent decades. In 1945, 72% of men and 26% of women smoked in Australia. By 1991, the proportion of Australians smoking daily declined to 24.3% and declined further to 11% in 2019. 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. Evidence-based tobacco control policies have led to these decreases in smoking rates in Australia, and consequently reductions in tobacco-related deaths, particularly in lung cancer. Nearly 1.9 million lung cancer deaths will be averted between 2016-2100 if tobacco control measures continue.
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. 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.
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