3-year priority 2013–16: More people living smoke-free and less harm among resistant smokers.

Smoking stats

Victoria has been a leader in tobacco control for many years – an achievement borne out of the longstanding partnership between VicHealth and the Victorian Government to support the activities of the Quit program in tobacco control.

Since the Tobacco Act was introduced to Victoria in 1987, regular smoking rates have dropped from over 32 per cent to 12 per cent. Despite this, smoking still causes 4500 preventable deaths in Victoria every year and costs the economy $5 billion.

Quit Victoria

In 2015–16, VicHealth continued to provide significant investment (our largest ever) in tobacco control, primarily through our partnership with Quit Victoria. In May 2016, Quit launched its first digital-led campaign ‘Breaking Habits’. This featured advice from real ex-smokers and a Quit specialist on how to break habits when quitting smoking. There were more than 28,000 views in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Quit has also developed a new strategic plan to enhance and tailor its efforts for priority populations, including people with socioeconomic disadvantage, people with mental illness, current and former prisoners, and the Aboriginal community. 

Heart Foundation cardiovascular disease project

With support from VicHealth, the Heart Foundation Victoria is raising awareness about the link between smoking and heart disease among cardiac patients and high-risk culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups.

The Heart Foundation supports training and professional opportunities in this area and has worked with health professionals and CALD communities to develop a number of resources.

Smoking cessation forum: high priority populations

We worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to deliver a smoking cessation forum in April 2016. Over 200 health professionals attended to hear from experts in the field and to discuss approaches to smoking cessation within the Victorian context. VicHealth also convened a session on smoking cessation for the alcohol and drug sector.

Health inequities are everyone’s business

VicHealth worked with Quit, Cancer Council Western Australia, and Cancer Council New South Wales to deliver a pre-conference workshop to coincide with the Oceania Tobacco Control Conference in Perth in October 2015. The workshop was attended by over 100 Australian and international tobacco control experts with an interest in addressing tobacco-related health inequities.

The workshop explored the merits and challenges of two approaches to addressing tobacco-related health inequities: population based approaches and tailored approaches. The workshop also identified how these two approaches might complement each other. 

Tobacco Act Review

In late 2015 and early 2016, VicHealth participated in consultations for the review of the Tobacco Act 1987 (Vic).

In October 2016, the Victorian Parliament passed amendments to the Tobacco Act that introduced a smoking ban in outdoor dining areas and regulates e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products. The changes come into effect on 1 August 2017. VicHealth congratulates the Victorian Government on their tobacco control efforts.

Preventing tobacco use

The distinctive scent of cigarette smoke is becoming rarer and rarer across Victoria. Just 13.1 per cent of the state population are currently smokers, yet as far as VicHealth is concerned, that figure needs to be much lower, as smoking-related deaths still number 4000 across the state each year, resulting in around $5 billion in annual public healthcare costs.

Ongoing efforts towards reducing the harm from tobacco are key to lowering the number of current smokers, while discouraging younger Victorians from ever forming a habit. In line with these efforts, VicHealth has funded four innovative research projects which seek to improve smoking cessation rates in Victoria.

Understanding the barriers preventing the best practice use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is one of VicHealth’s funded projects in this area is led by Alfred Health. “People who smoke generally do so because they’ve become dependent on nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes,” says Kirstan Corben, Lead for Population Health and Health Promotion at Alfred Health. To avoid the negative effects associated with withdrawals, NRT delivers nicotine in forms other than drawing cigarette smoke into the lungs. Most people using NRT products do not use them in the way that gives them the best chance of quitting because there is a lack of awareness – by both the public and health professionals – of the evidence about how the products should be used to support a quit attempt.

VicHealth’s funding has allowed Cancer Council Victoria to investigate how people make judgements about the relative harmfulness and addictiveness of different types of cigarettes and other forms of nicotine. The two other recipients of VicHealth’s Innovation Research Grants include Professor Jayashri Kulkarni from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, whose research concentrated on vaporised nicotine products among patients with severe and persistent mental illness, while Professor Billie Bonevski from the University of Newcastle and her team are investigating new ways to support cessation among clients receiving alcohol and other drug treatment in Victoria, particularly whether vaporised nicotine products can sustain a quit attempt and prevent relapse.

Alfred Health has become a leader in supporting patients to quit smoking through its pharmacist-led approach to managing nicotine dependency. This approach includes the systematic identification of the smoking status of patients and offering support to those who smoke. The provision of nicotine replacement therapy is a key aspect of this support, as is ensuring that the support continues after the patient is discharged. The Alfred Health program has seen great success rates. “Our inpatients are four times more likely to succeed at quitting, and our outpatients experience cessation rates of about 42 per cent, which is very high, given that smoking has a chronic relapse rate,” says Corben. “Our overall goal is to drive down smoking rates even lower, and one way of doing that is to make sure that people who smoke receive the best possible support around quitting. By now, people know smoking is bad for them, but often don’t know how to most effectively quit.”

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