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  • Hundreds of thousands of lives saved since we were told the truth about tobacco, but millions still at risk

    13 January 2014

    This month marks 50 years since the public was first told smoking was linked with disease and Cancer Council SA is using this important landmark month to urge South Australian smokers to quit and to remind the government that the war on tobacco has not yet been won.

    On January 11, 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry released an authoritative report that said smoking causes illness and death — and the government should do something about it. At that time 58% of Australian men were smokers, the latest statistics show that rate is now around 19%.

    Ten years after the report was first issued, the Australian Government took its first action to protect the Australian public from the product which kills one in two long term users, by placing very small warnings on the bottom of cigarette packets. Cancer Council SA Chief Executive, Professor Brenda Wilson, reflected on how far Australia has come.

    “We may have been slow off the mark and waited ten years before we acted on the report from the Surgeon General, but we can now proudly say that we are leading the world with things like plain packaging and government funded quit smoking aids,” Professor Wilson said.

    Since 1964, much progress has been made and here in South Australia a range of actions from the establishment of the Quitline, smoke-free spaces including workplaces and eating areas, media campaigns and support programs like the Quitline have all played a part in reducing the smoking rate.

    Professor Wilson cautioned that despite the progress that has been made in the past 50 years, there is still more work to do.

    “We’ve come a long way since the public was warned about the deadly consequences of smoking 50 years ago, but clearly education and support programs must continue,” Professor Wilson added.

    “It wasn’t all that long ago that you could light up on a plane and every office desk had an ash tray, now the thought of smoking in those places seems ridiculous.  Our hope is that one day the thought of anyone wanting to engage in this deadly habit at all will seem just as foreign.

    “While smoking rates in South Australia have declined to 16.2%, we cannot be complacent because tobacco is still the number one cause of preventable death and disease, and there are still large geographical areas around the state where rates are high.

    “Tobacco kills around 20 South Australians every week, outweighing total deaths from alcohol and other drugs combined. These unnecessary deaths are totally avoidable.

    “As we look back over the years, Quit television advertisements have proven to be a key in driving people to quit smoking and deter many from taking up the habit. The evidence tells us that it is one of the most effective things the South Australian government can do to drive down the smoking rate.

    “Recently Cancer Council SA expressed its disappointment following the State Government’s decision to remove all funding for anti-tobacco media campaigns.

    “Quitline always experienced a significant increase in calls when advertising campaigns hit the airwaves and their absence will certainly cost lives.

    “In the absence of advertising, the drop in people seeking assistance from the Quitline is no doubt also reflected in other measures people take to give up smoking.

    “As we pass this 50-year milestone we should be as resolute as ever to denormalise smoking and ease the pressure on the health system from the illnesses caused by tobacco.

    “We are proud of the work that Quit SA and the Quitline has done to assist smokers over the years, and independent research shows that people who use the Quitline are twice as likely to succeed with their quit attempts.”

    Anyone wanting advice on how to quit smoking should call the Quitline on 13 7848 or visit www.quitsa.org.au.

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