• Tobacco smoking is one of the largest causes of preventable death and illness in Australia.
  • Nicotine is a naturally occurring drug in tobacco that makes cigarette smoking addictive.
  • Many smokers try to quit several times before they manage to quit for good.

Tobacco smoking is one of the largest causes of preventable illness and death in Australia. Smoking causes a range of cancers, as well as heart disease, stroke and emphysema.

Two in three lifetime smokers die from smoking

Tobacco causes more illness and death than any other drug. In Australia, smoking kills around 15,000 people every year. This is estimated to be about 90 per cent of all drug-caused deaths. Up to two in three lifetime smokers will die from their habit, and they will die on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers.

In Victoria, smoking causes around 3,800 deaths every year – an average of 73 deaths per week.

A survey of Victorians shows that 14 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women aged 14 years and over smoked daily in 2013.

Tobacco laws in Victoria

In Victoria, it is illegal to smoke:
  • in most indoor workplaces
  • in cars carrying children who are under 18 years of age
  • at all of Victoria's patrolled beaches within 50 metres of a red and yellow flag
  • within 10 metres of children's playground equipment
  • within 10 metres of skate parks
  • within the outdoor areas of all public swimming pool complexes
  • within 10 metres of outdoor sporting venues during under 18s events
  • in all areas of train stations, covered bus shelters and raised platform tram stops
  • within the grounds of, and within four metres of an entrance to, all Victorian childcare centres, kindergartens (or preschools) and primary and secondary schools
  • at and within four metres of an entrance to children’s indoor play centres and Victorian public premises (which are all public hospitals and registered community health centres, and certain Victorian Government buildings)
  • in prisons, including outdoor areas.

Chemicals in tobacco

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including:
  • tar – a mixture of chemicals
  • nicotine – an addictive substance
  • carbon monoxide – found in car exhaust fumes
  • ammonia – found in floor cleaner
  • arsenic – found in ant poison.

At least 69 of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer.

Smoking causes cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, nose, voice box, oesophagus, pancreas, liver, stomach, kidney, bladder, ureter, bowel, ovary, cervix and bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia). Tobacco smoke also causes heart disease, stroke and emphysema.

Withdrawal from smoking

Nicotine, which occurs naturally in tobacco plants, is the drug that makes smokers want to keep on smoking. Research has shown that, like heroin, nicotine is addictive. This means that when people start smoking regularly, their body becomes used to nicotine and needs a regular dose.

One reason that smokers continue to smoke is to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which can be very unpleasant. Withdrawal can bring about physical and emotional changes, which may include:

  • cravings
  • irritability, frustration, depression and anxiety
  • restlessness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • changed sleeping patterns
  • increase in appetite and weight gain.
Withdrawal symptoms are all signs that the body is recovering and getting used to living without nicotine. On average, most symptoms are gone within two to four weeks, but some smokers may have some symptoms for a few more weeks. Some people may gain weight, particularly in the first few months, but this decreases with time.

Most smokers want to quit

Research shows that most smokers have tried to quit. They are aware of the health problems caused by smoking, for themselves and for the people around them. Smokers also realise they spend a lot of money on cigarettes.

It is important for a smoker to decide they want to quit and be confident that they will succeed. The next step is to plan the best way to do it. A smoker might find it useful to think about why and when they smoke, and then work out ways to tackle the urge to smoke.

Help for smokers to quit

Help is available for smokers who want to quit. Some things that can help include:

  • counselling or support – for example, your doctor or Quitline
  • education and information
  • nicotine patches, gum, inhalator, lozenges, oral strips and mouth spray
  • prescription medication such as bupropion (brand names Zyban and Prexaton) and varenicline (Champix).

People who have the best chance of quitting are those who get some supportand use nicotine replacement products or quitting medication. Talk to your doctor about the type of help that is best for you. Medication used to quit smoking is not suitable for everyone.

Most smokers try to quit several times before they manage to quit for good. To have a cigarette does not mean failure. You can learn from a setback and succeed the next time.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Pharmacist
  • Quitline Tel. 13 7848 (13 QUIT)

Top tips

Check out our top tips to help you quit smoking in the slideshow below.

    • Banks E, Joshy G, Weber MF, et al. 2015, ‘Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence’, BMC Med, vol. 13, p. 38. More information here.
    • Pirie K, Peto R, Reeves GK 2012, ‘The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: a prospective study of one million women in the UK’, Lancet, vol. 381, no. 9861, pp. 133-41. More information here.
    • Jha P, Ramasundarahettige C, Landsman V, et al. 2013, ‘21st-century hazards of smoking and benefits of cessation in the United States’, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 368, no. 4, pp. 341-50. More information here.
    • What’s in cigarette smoke? 2015, OxyGen, Quit South Australia. More information here.
    • Quitting smoking information sheets: withdrawal, 2014, Quit Victoria. More information here.
    • Scollo MM, Winstanley MH 2012, Tobacco in Australia, Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne. More information here.
    • Collins DJ, Lapsley HM, 2008, The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05, Department of Health, Australian Government. More information here.
    • Collins DJ, Lapsley HM, 2001, The social costs of smoking in Victoria in 2008/09 and the social benefits of public policy measures to reduce smoking prevalence, Quit Victoria and the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control, Melbourne. More information here.
    • Australia's health 2014, 2014, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra. More information here.
    • National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013, 2014, Drug statistics series no. 28, Cat. no. PHE 183, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Canberra. More information here.
    • IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, 2012, A review of human carcinogens. Part E: Personal habits and indoor combustions. International Agency for Research on Cancer, France. More information here.
    • The health consequences of smoking, 2004, A report of the Surgeon General, US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health . More information here.
    • Secretan B, Straif K, Baan R, et al., 2009, ‘A review of human carcinogens – Part E: tobacco, areca nut, alcohol, coal smoke, and salted fish’, Lancet Oncology, vol. 10, no. 11, pp. 1033–1034. More information here.
    • How tobacco smoke causes disease: the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease, 2010, A report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. More information here.
    • Zwar N, Richmond R, Borland R, et al. 2011, Supporting smoking cessation: a guide for health professionals, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. More information here.

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    Last updated: July 2015

    Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.