Smoking in the dark: half of smokers still 'unaware of risks'

IN THE DARK: One in three smokers are not aware of the serious health harms associated with the habit, new data from Cancer Council Victoria has revealed.
IN THE DARK: One in three smokers are not aware of the serious health harms associated with the habit, new data from Cancer Council Victoria has revealed.

One in three smokers are not aware of the serious associated health harms, new data has revealed.

The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, revealed few people knew serious health problems such as acute leukaemia, stomach cancer and rheumatoid arthritis were associated with smoking.

The survey showed the link between smoking and lung, throat and mouth cancers was well known, but awareness was low for other associated health risks such as stomach ulcers and diabetes.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer surveyed 1806 Australians aged 18 to 69 about their awareness of the 23 health conditions associated with tobacco use.

Fewer than half were able to identify smoking as a cause of highly fatal cancers such as pancreatic cancer and liver cancer, or other conditions including blindness, ectopic pregnancy, erectile dysfunction in men and infertility in women. Overall awareness that smoking increases the risk of each condition ranged from 91.2 percent for lung cancer to 27.1 per cent for rheumatoid arthritis.

Cancer Council Victoria’s lead researcher Melanie Wakefield said the findings highlighted very large gaps in smokers’ awareness of the health dangers of smoking. 

She said eight in 10 smokers knew about health problems such as lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, all of which were featured in graphic health warnings on cigarette packs or television campaigns.

“This suggests those messages have got through,” she said.

Former smoker, Hamilton’s Arie Eddy, said he identified smoking as a cause of fatal diseases like lung and throat cancers and health conditions like infertility in women and strokes, but was unsure whether the habit could lead to blindness, arthritis, stomach cancer or erectile dysfunction. 

Mr Eddy has been smoke-free for 12 months. He started smoking when he was 15 years old and  quit after six years. 

"I did it for my fiance, as well as my children," he said. “Sadly, I still crave them sometimes but I know that being without them will help me in the long run. I have children, and a fiance now, so I need to start thinking about our future together.”

The federal government is reviewing the 14 graphic health warnings on cigarette packs used since 2012.

Professor Wakefield hoped the findings could help identify which health conditions to use in warnings on cigarette packs in future.

“Tobacco use damages nearly every organ of the body, but as this study shows, many Australian smokers are not aware of the wide range of serious health problems they could face.”