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What are the health impacts of tobacco?

Tobacco remains one of the most commonly used drugs in the world and causes a significant health burden for many countries.
© CQUniversity 2021

Tobacco has been used in many cultures for many hundreds of years. It remains one of the most commonly used drugs in the world and causes a significant health burden for many countries.

Health impacts of tobacco

In 2021, the WHO acknowledged that tobacco is one of the world’s largest preventable causes of premature death. It is associated with 8.7 million deaths each year and costs the global economy US$ 1.4 trillion each year (WHO, 2021). Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers. While 75% of all countries have tobacco control measures in place, more than 1 billion people still smoke (WHO, 2021). In Australia, it is responsible for 1 in every 10 deaths (AIHW, 2020).

As tobacco control measures have become a prominent feature in health promotion, resulting in decreased tobacco sales in high-income countries, tobacco companies have focused on developing electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS). ENDS and ENNDS do not contain tobacco, rather they vaporise a combination of various chemicals, including nicotine in ENDS. These are promoted as healthier alternatives to tobacco. Some countries have banned the sale of ENDS, or limited their use arguing that this may re-normalise smoking, particularly in public places (WHO, 2021)

Who smokes?

In Australia, men are more likely to smoke than women (12.2 % compared to 9.9%), and young people are less likely to smoke than older people (AIHS, 2020). According to the NDSHS, the majority smokers in 2019 were people in their 40s (15.8%) and those in their 50s (15.9%) (AIHW, 2020).

Interestingly, 2 in 5 smokers reduced their tobacco smoked in the last 12 months when surveyed in 2019, and more smokers are choosing roll-your-own cigarettes (33% in 2019) (AIHW, 2020).

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings [Drug Statistics series no. 31, Cat no. PHE 214]. Retrieved from
WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021: addressing new and emerging products. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
© CQUniversity 2021
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