University aims to stub out problem smoking for good

University aims to stub out problem smoking for good

Ask almost any long-term smoker who has tried to quit and they’re likely to tell you they’ve tried everything.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, tobacco smoking is the single most important preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, of which over 70 cause cancer.

Cases of diagnosed lung cancer show that nearly 90% of Australian men and 65% of Australian women are attributable to tobacco smoking. In 2019 alone, 7,184 Australian males and 5,633 females will be diagnosed with lung cancer.

However, a landmark trial on how to stop tobacco addiction will help inform future programs to break this tragic cycle. The new approach – building on more than a decade of research – to support long-term smokers to quit will be trialled in Adelaide this year.

The Flinders-led program, funded by Cancer Australia, will focus on low socio-economic status (SES) areas where smoking rates have not decreasing as they have in other parts of society.

With the high cost of cigarettes affecting low income earners more than others, Flinders University researchers have developed an evidence-based solution for those in the community who require extra help.

Community-led peer support groups, using ‘mindfulness’ and other behavioural interventions to build resilience, will work with smokers for up to six months in full randomised, controlled clinical trials across metropolitan Adelaide.

“This will be the world’s first study to test the effectiveness of the resilience interventions on smoking cessation in low SES groups,” project leader and sociologist, Professor Paul Ward, from Flinders University, said.

“Smoking continues to be stubbornly and significantly more prevalent in lower compared to higher socio-economic areas, despite long-running efforts to reduce this inequity”.

Professor Ward’s said the University’s previous research established a number of strategies that are most feasible in breaking bad habits to help people most at risk to quit.

“Now we’re going to measure the success of these methods in a real-world situation,” he said.

Addiction to smoking is fuelled and perpetrated by complex and interwoven social, economic, emotional and psychological factors, he says, pointing to higher levels among prisoners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those diagnosed with mental health issues as examples.

The federal Cancer Australia ‘Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme’ project, entitled Increasing resilience and reducing smoking for lower socio-economic groups, will receive more than $550,000 over three years.

A previous study (‘Economic benefits of achieving realistic smoking cessation targets in Australia’, 2008) estimated an 8% drop in smoking led to 58,000 fewer cases of disease, 2.2 million fewer lost working days, an increase in leisure time of 23,000 days, and a decrease in health sector costs of $500 million in Australia.

People can sign up for the SA trials when they are announced and promoted locally in coming weeks. The research has also received Australian Government NHMRC and ARC funding.