Background: The smoking epidemic in Australia is characterised by historic levels of prolonged smoking, heavy smoking, very high levels of long-term cessation, and low current smoking prevalence, with 13% of adults reporting that they smoked daily in 2013. Large-scale quantitative evidence on the relationship of tobacco smoking to mortality in Australia is not available despite the potential to provide independent international evidence about the contemporary risks of smoking.
Methods: This is a prospective study of 204,953 individuals aged ≥45 years sampled from the general population of New South Wales, Australia, who joined the 45 and Up Study from 2006-2009, with linked questionnaire, hospitalisation, and mortality data to mid-2012 and with no history of cancer (other than melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer), heart disease, stroke, or thrombosis. Hazard ratios (described here as relative risks, RRs) for all-cause mortality among current and past smokers compared to never-smokers were estimated, adjusting for age, education, income, region of residence, alcohol, and body mass index.
Results: Overall, 5,593 deaths accrued during follow-up (874,120 person-years; mean: 4.26 years); 7.7% of participants were current smokers and 34.1% past smokers at baseline. Compared to never-smokers, the adjusted RR (95% CI) of mortality was 2.96 (2.69-3.25) in current smokers and was similar in men (2.82 (2.49-3.19)) and women (3.08 (2.63-3.60)) and according to birth cohort. Mortality RRs increased with increasing smoking intensity, with around two- and four-fold increases in mortality in current smokers of ≤14 (mean 10/day) and ≥25 cigarettes/day, respectively, compared to never-smokers. Among past smokers, mortality diminished gradually with increasing time since cessation and did not differ significantly from never-smokers in those quitting prior to age 45. Current smokers are estimated to die an average of 10 years earlier than non-smokers.
Conclusions: In Australia, up to two-thirds of deaths in current smokers can be attributed to smoking. Cessation reduces mortality compared with continuing to smoke, with cessation earlier in life resulting in greater reductions.