ACT News

The financial cost of smoking hits harder than academic research

Downer's Nigel McRae, a heavy smoker for 33 years, has gone cold turkey.
Downer's Nigel McRae, a heavy smoker for 33 years, has gone cold turkey.  Photo: Graham Tidy

New research into mortality rates for smokers may disturb public health officials, but for many Canberrans it is the sheer cost of smoking that prompts them to break the habit.

Researchers at the Australian National University have found two-thirds of smokers will be prematurely killed by their habit unless they are able to quit.

The research, which was published in the international journal BMC Medicine, found smoking just 10 cigarettes a day doubled the your risk of dying prematurely and that on average, smokers died 10 years earlier than non-smokers. 

ANU researcher Professor Emily Banks said the study was "a huge wake up for Australia".

"We knew smoking was bad but we now have direct evidence from Australia that shows it is worse than previously thought," she said.

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But for Nigel McRae, of Downer, it was the annual cost of $10,000 for two packs a day that forced him to quit. McRae had started smoking when he was 11 and continued for 33 years.

"My first cigarette was given to me by my older sister and when I was at school it was seen as the cool and naughty thing to be doing," he said.

"I gave up about three years ago, motivated by the obvious health risks but also the expense of it."

Mr McRae, 47, said most smokers were aware of the health risks posed by cigarettes but this was often not enough to stop them from smoking.

"Even back at school we knew it wasn't good for us as we had health classes about it, but in some way that was part of the attraction," he said.

"I support all the efforts the government has gone to to eliminate the pool of cigarettes, but in some way the more you try to make it more difficult, the more some people will be attracted to it.

"There is probably still a small proportion of people to whom smoking remains cool."

Mr McRae, who smoked up to two packets a day, said his decision to quit was partly based on vanity and the desire to improve his health and appearance.

"When you smoke that much you get grey skin and you start to stink and have bad teeth," he said.

"The main thing I noticed after quitting was everyone telling me how good I looked as I had some colour back in my body."

Kirsten McEwan, who started smoking while on exchange as a 15-year-old student in Germany, said the cost of smoking was the main influence on her decision to quit.

"In Germany, cigarettes were a lot more accessible and you could buy them from vending machines on the side of the street," she said.

"It was very, very easy and cigarettes were a lot cheaper than they were in Australia."

The 26-year-old, who quit smoking in 2010, said most Australians were aware of research indicating the health risks of smoking but needed added incentives to quit.

"Every smoker in the world knows the health risks, but they still do it anyway," she said.

There is all this research, but a lot of people's mentality is 'I could get hit by a bus tomorrow or catch some other disease or get shot - I'm going to die somehow someday'."

The report found the average duration of a smoking habit was 38.5 years with the majority smoking for more than 35 or more years, consuming at least 15 cigarettes a day.

"In Australia, male and female smokers were estimated to have the same risks of death 9.6 and 10.1 years earlier than 75-year-old non-smokers, respectively," the report said.

Ms Banks said Australians should be proud of reducing smoking rates to just 13 per cent of the population – a world leading result – despite around 2.7 million people continuing to smoke.