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Expenditure on COVID-19 highlights the government’s disregard for smokers

Posted on April 9, 2020

AUSTRALIAN public health experts have highlighted the contradiction between the unprecedented expenditure to control COVID-19 with the minimal resources allocated to help smokers quit. Smoking is a far greater risk to public health than COVID-19 but is grossly neglected and receives little government funding.

The article by Marita Hefler and Coral Gartner, of Charles Darwin and Queensland Universities, respectively was published in the latest issue of the journal Tobacco Control.

The authors said tobacco smoking – which kills around 8 million people annually – was “a greater, sustained strain” than the coronavirus, which has killed around 70,000 globally.

The cumulative death toll from tobacco use was 100 million during the 20th century and estimates indicate this could reach 1 billion this century.

Smoking kills 21,000 Australians each year and is the biggest preventable cause of death. COVID-19 has killed 51 Australians at last count.

“If governments had acted to protect the public from tobacco with a fraction of the effort (and financial investment) they have exerted to control this coronavirus, many millions of lives could have been saved, and underlying demand on health services significantly reduced,” they said.

Hundreds of billions of dollars and widespread disruptive regulations have been introduced appropriately to help control the spread of COVID-19. However, the disease would be “unlikely to ever match the relentless and growing annual toll from tobacco smoking”, according to the analysis.

The Australian government collected over $17 billion on tobacco excise last year and spends only a tiny portion on measures to reduce tobacco smoking.

Effective treatment banned

In addition to minimal funding to help smokers, Australian governments continue to block vaping as an exit strategy. Vaping is the most effective and most popular quitting aid available. On the other hand, lethal cigarettes are available at every corner store

A recent study by Australian academics published in Drug and Alcohol Review concluded that vaping could substantially reduce smoking rates in Australia and save many lives. Smoking rates have stalled in Australia since 2013.

The current strategy of relentless tobacco tax rises, plain packaging and strict tobacco control is no longer working. New and effective strategies are needed.

Essential strategies are mass media campaigns (ceased in 2012), training for health professionals, more smoking clinics and fewer cigarette sales outlets are needed.

But the elephant in the room is vaping. Incredibly, Australia remains the only western democracy to ban nicotine vaping

Whatever happened to evidence-based policy?


Hefler M, Gartner C. The tobacco industry in the time of COVID-19: time to shut it down? Tobacco Control 2020

Mendelsohn CP, Hall W, Borland R. Could vaping help lower smoking rates in Australia? Drug and Alcohol Review 2020

Posted by Colin Mendelsohn,

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One Reply to “Expenditure on COVID-19 highlights the government’s disregard for smokers”

Mr Michelle Krezic

I stopped smoking tobacco & marijuana over three years ago; despite having just the one recent slip-up. I am thankful to 13 QUIT for being there when I needed someone. Currently, Australia's tobacco burden is such that, smoking kills over 20,000 people annually. Covid-19 first claimed an Australian life in March 2020. That is, since Covid-19 claimed an Australian's life, the tobacco burden death has been near 50,000 people. The question to this is one in eight die from tobacco, and one in four that die from Covid-19 are smokers.

Q. How many have died from Covid-19?

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