Tobacco smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia (Cancer Council 2006).
Smoking is a key risk factor for the three diseases that cause most deaths in Australia: ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and lung
Smokers are also at increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and reduced lung function (DoHA 2006).
Smoking is responsible for around 80% of all lung cancer deaths and 20% of all cancer deaths (smoking has been linked to cancers of the mouth, bladder, kidney, stomach and cervix, among others) (DoHA 2006).
The 2003 Australian Burden of Disease Study indicates that tobacco smoking was second behind overweight among the leading causes of the burden of disease in Australia.
It was estimated that tobacco smoking was responsible for about 8% of the total burden of disease and injury for all Australians (9.5% of total for males and 6.1% of total for females) (AIHW 2006: Begg et al in press).
People who start smoking when they are young are more likely to smoke heavily, to become more dependent on nicotine and to be at increased risk of smoking-related illness or death (McDermott, Russell and Dobson 2002).
The breathing in of tobacco smoke by non-smokers can lead to harmful health effects in the unborn child, and middle ear infections and bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and other chest conditions in children. It is also linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
In adults, passive smoking can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and other chronic lung diseases (Queensland Health 2006).
Overall, only 45% of current smokers reported very good or excellent health, compared to 57% of ex-smokers and 60% of those who reported never smoking, after adjusting for age differences. As well at any age, the proportion of current smokers who rated their health as fair or poor was substantially higher for each age group than that for those who never smoked.
Smokers also reported higher levels of psychological distress. About 20% of current smokers reported high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared to only 10% of those who had never smoked, after adjusting for age differences.
Smokers had higher levels of respiratory disease than those who had never smoked. For example, 4% of current smokers reported bronchitis and 11% reported asthma, after adjusting for age differences. Corresponding proportions for those who never smoked were lower at 2% and 9% respectively.