Issue 4
Monday, 01 June 2020
Charles Darwin University
Dr Marita Hefler wants to see a tobacco-free Australia
Dr Marita Hefler wants to see a tobacco-free Australia

Crushing another deadly curve essential: researcher

By Andrew Hall

Menzies School of Health Research researcher Dr Marita Hefler is calling on Australian lawmakers to work towards banning all tobacco sales.

In the aftermath of World No-Tobacco Day yesterday, Dr Hefler is highlighting disparate public policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the still-legal selling of tobacco products.

“We’re living in the time of COVID-19, with lockdowns, physical distancing, and state and territory border closures mandated by our federal, state and territory governments – enforced by their respective policing authorities,” Dr Hefler said.

“Facing a pandemic that has infected about five million people around the globe, and killed more than 360,000, the general population in Australia – where 103 people have lost their lives – and elsewhere have accepted and abided by policy prescriptions designed to ‘keep us safe’.”

The Australian Burden of Disease study estimated that smoking caused 20,933 Australian smokers’ deaths in 2015. Worldwide, smoking kills about eight million people a year.

“We don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, but the disease and deaths from smoking are completely preventable,” Dr Hefler said.

“My work, and that of many others, questions why governments of all stripes still tolerate the legal sale of a product, that used in the prescribed manner is far more lethal than the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be thus far.

“There is no other consumer product that kills up to two-thirds of long-term users.”

Dr Hefler said that despite tobacco sales still being legal, Australia was a world leader in reducing smoking. Twenty years ago, around 27% of adults smoked; today that has halved to around 13%.

However, she said, smoking still cost Australia around $137 billion in health care, lost productivity, and reduced quality of life. In 2019, the Australian Government collected more than $12 billion in tobacco taxes.

“My sincere advice to smokers in the time of COVID-19, which primarily attacks the lungs, is that now is a very good time to consider giving up. Quitting is one of the best things smokers can do for their health, at any time,” Dr Hefler said.

“And every single day smokers don’t smoke puts them on a trend towards baseline physical health, greatly reducing the risk of pulmonary and heart disease, and, of course the numerous forms of cancer that years of research has connected with the toxic chemical cocktail present in cigarettes.”