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Australian-led study shows cigarette prices and anti-smoking ads most effective in reducing smoking

Friday 13 June, 2008

Increases in the real price of cigarettes and mass media campaigns are crucial to reducing smoking rates, according to a new Australian study published today in the American Journal of Public Health. 

The study, led by Australian researchers and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, used monthly survey data from the five largest Australian capital cities to assess the impact of several tobacco control policies and televised anti-smoking advertising on adult smoking rates.

Director of The Cancer Council Victoria and co-author of the study, Professor David Hill, said cigarette price and anti-smoking media campaigns have the potential to accelerate the decline in smoking rates by reducing smoking uptake and increasing quitting by smokers.

"An increase in the real price of cigarettes and mass media campaigns broadcast at sufficient levels of exposure at regular intervals are critical for reducing population smoking rates."

"The study found we would achieve between 0.3 and 0.6 percentage point acceleration in the decline in smoking rates by either exposing the population to televised anti-smoking ads an average of between 4 and 8 times per month or by increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes by between 0.03 to 0.06% of gross average weekly earnings."

Converted to today's values, this means that increasing the television exposure to this level or increasing the price of each cigarette stick by between 1 and 2.5 cents would result in an additional 60,000-95,000 fewer smokers in Australia, up to half of whom would die prematurely if they continued smoking.

Key study findings:

  • Relatively small percentage changes in the cost of a typical pack of cigarettes translate into measurable declines in prevalence.
  • The effects of anti-tobacco advertising on smoking rates occur relatively quickly, but also dissipate rapidly in the absence of continued high levels of exposure

Professor Hill said the study highlighted the need for Government to consider investment in tobacco control as an ongoing and essential service, as they would with primary health care, intensive care and ambulance services.

"The public health gains from reducing tobacco use are huge and indisputable, but we will not see population-level change from irregular tobacco control activity. Ongoing exposure to mass-reach interventions, such as price increases and mass media campaigns are required."

Executive Director of Quit, Ms Fiona Sharkie said the release of this study was timely with the Federal Government having nominated tobacco as a key public health problem that must be tackled to reduce burden on the health system.

"The study essentially provides Government with a blueprint on the best ways to reduce smoking, and it will certainly be invaluable information for the new National Preventative Health Taskforce who are currently considering ways forward to address tobacco use in Australia," said Ms Sharkie

""Increasing the price of cigarettes is probably the most effective intervention that can be made in tobacco control, but aside from CPI increases and the introduction of the GST in June 2000, tobacco tax has not increased in Australia in almost ten years."

"With rising costs in food, petrol and housing, tobacco is now relatively inexpensive. It is cheaper to buy a packet of cigarettes than it is to go to a movie or buy a mobile phone card."

Ms Sharkie said the findings add to the growing body of evidence that anti-smoking television campaigns are an integral component of tobacco control programs.

"Tobacco control mass media campaigns are an essential element of any plan to get smoking rates down, but they need to be sustained and have adequate exposure levels to be as effective as possible."

The study will be available online in the First Look section at from 6am, 13th June 2008

To organise an interview with Professor David Hill or Fiona Sharkie, please contact Edwina Pearse on 03 9635 5400 or 0417 303 811.