They changed our drinking and smoking habits and now a study has shown random breath tests and cigarette advert bans prevented a staggering number of deaths.
They changed our drinking and smoking habits and now a study has shown random breath tests and cigarette advert bans prevented a staggering number of deaths.

How ad bans, breath tests saved thousands of lives

The proof is in on how many lives have been saved by random breath testing, bans on cigarette advertising, quit smoking campaigns and workplace smoking bans and the figures are staggering.

A La Trobe University researcher has estimated that since the 1960s more than 36,000 cancer deaths have been prevented by these and other policies aimed at cutting alcohol and tobacco consumption.

The bad news is that La Trobe epidemiologist University's Dr Jason (Heng) Jiang also found that relaxation of liquor licensing rules in the 1960s led to an increase in cancer deaths among men.

Dr Jiang looked at trends in alcohol and tobacco consumption between the 1960s and 2013 and cross referenced it with data on cancer deaths from the World Health Organisation to come up with his findings.

He found consumption of tobacco went up from an average of 2 kilograms per person in 1910 and peaked at 3.5 kilograms per person in 1960.

After major reports detailing the harm of tobacco were released in the 1960s, tobacco consumption declined to 0.8 kilograms per person in 2013.

Tobacco ad bans saved lives. Picture supplied.
Tobacco ad bans saved lives. Picture supplied.


The report found:

*Public health reports warning about the health risks of smoking in the 1960s led to a reduction in Australian tobacco consumption and prevented 25,000 cancer deaths, saving the lives of 13.400 men and 11,600 women in the last 30 years;

*The ban on cigarette advertising on Australian TV and radio in 1976 saved 6950 lives preventing the deaths of 4520 men and 2430 women between 1980 and 2013.

In regards to alcohol, in 1960 alcohol consumption averaged around 8.4 litres per person and after liquor laws were loosened it peaked at 13.1 litres per capita in 1975 but drinking rates fell to 9.6 litres per person in 2013.

The report found the introduction of random breath testing programs in Australia in 1976 prevented 4880 cancer deaths in the past 30 years saving the lives of 3200 men and 1680 women;

Liquor license liberalisation introduced in the 1960s however, was linked to an increase of 2680 male cancer deaths in the past 30 years.

The findings showed it could take decades to realise the full extent of the effect of changes in tobacco and alcohol policies, Dr Jiang said.

"It's clear from our findings that the full effect of more recent policies, such as plain cigarette packaging and alcohol content labelling of beverages, may not be known for decades."



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Public Health Association president Dr Terry Slevin said the figures on the lives saved by public health policies appeared to be on the conservative side.

"It invites the question what might we be able to achieve if we take a few more steps particularly on obesity," he said.

Previous research by ANU Professor Emily Banks' Sax Institute 45 and Up study calculated the heart death rates associated with smoking and found it was killing at least 17 Australians a day.

A 2017 study by researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute found cancer caused by smoking and passive smoking killed 9921 people in 2013 and accounted for 23 per cent of all cancer deaths.

Poor diet was responsible for 2329 deaths from cancer, being overweight or obese for 1990 deaths, and infections for 1981 deaths.