Surge in Aussie smoker rates over pandemic

Smoker numbers have increased across Australia since the beginning of the pandemic, with data released by  SiSU Health showing the greatest percentage jumps in the ACT (up 3.9%) and Queensland. 

But Tasmania continues to lead the country in smoking rates, with the data suggesting close one in five  Tasmanians are regular smokers. 

Increases occurred across all age groups following the arrival of COVID-19, with the rate amongst 65 to 74 year olds nearly doubling since before the pandemic. Smoking levels are markedly higher in regional and remote areas  than in cities, while ATSIC rates are stubbornly high at 3 times the rate of non-indigenous Australians. 

SiSU Health Managing Director Dr Noel Duncan said: “Cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one killer,  with heart disease and stroke claiming 18.6 million lives each year. But many of the risk factors, such as tobacco  use, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity, are within our control to change.” 

“We detected a sharp jump in our users’ smoking rates at the very onset of the pandemic. These rates have  tapered only slightly in 2021 and remain more than two percentage points higher than in the period prior to COVID.  The reasons for this upswing are complex, but stress and anxiety associated with lockdowns, often in combination  with more frequent alcohol consumption at home, are likely to be contributing factors.” 

Only the Northern Territory and South Australia, with a decrease in smoker numbers of 2.1% and 0.3 %  respectively, show cause for celebration. 

The data, updated ahead of World Heart Day, also provides a snapshot of rising rates of stress, high blood  pressure, weight gain, BMI and diabetes risk across the nation, with all these measures relevant to cardiovascular  disease. 

Dr Duncan said: “SiSU Health is passionate about helping Australians to measure, track and improve their health. Research suggests at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided.” 

“It has never been easier to get a quick measure of your health and any warning signs. World Heart Day is a great occasion to reflect on the importance of health and, for many people, to begin a healthier life after all the damage  that the COVID period has wrought.”  

Collected up to 29 August 2021, SiSU Health’s deidentified data is gathered via its 300 medical-grade health  stations positioned in pharmacies and corporate settings, and is the largest volume of longitudinal, machine measured, self-reported health data in Australia. The volume of data collected from the SiSU machines is 30 times  larger than Australia’s National Health Survey for the same collection period. 

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