Lung cancer mortality rates in Australia will continue to fall in the next quarter-century, possibly as a result of tobacco control regulations from the early 1990s, research has found.
Led by Cancer Council NSW researchers, and published in the journal Lung Cancer, the study found the lag time between smoking exposure and lung cancer deaths was 26-29 years.
Based on these calculations, the research predicted that lung cancer death rates will decline from 27.2 to 15.1 per 100,000 among men, and from 15.8 to 11.8 per 100,000 among women, by 2040.
A person’s current age, their birth cohort and cigarette exposure were found to be the strongest predictors for future death from lung cancer, the authors wrote.
Cancer Council NSW tobacco control manager Alecia Brooks told The New Daily that despite this progress, more work was needed to drive down smoking rates.
“We won’t have the fantastic declines in mortality rates of the ’90s if we don’t see declines in smoking and tobacco rates,” she said.
The comments come as Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on Wednesday showed that lung cancer remains the largest cause of cancer death in the country.
In 2017-18, lung cancer accounted for 8262, or 5.1 per cent, of cancer deaths. That made it the second leading cause of death for males, and the fifth leading cause overall.
The ABS data also revealed that the daily smoking rate has plateaued in the last three years.
Tobacco exposure is the most significant risk factor for lung cancer, with approximately 81 per cent of cases estimated to be a result of smoking.
Ms Brooks said NSW in particular was lagging, with smoking rates in the state flatlining in the past five years.
“The NSW government cannot be so complacent about tobacco control,” she said.
Cancer Council NSW director of research Professor Karen Canfell said existing tobacco control measures were “starting to lose purchase”.
“It’s absolutely crucial Australia continues to introduce new initiatives if we wish to see mortality rates continue to decline in future,” she said.
The organisation is campaigning for key policy proposals in NSW designed to continue the anti-smoking momentum of previous decades.
They include strengthening smoke-free environment laws to protect people from secondhand smoke in and around bars and clubs, and banning tobacco vending machines.
It also wants the NSW government to introduce an annual licence fee for cigarette retailers in line with other states, including Western Australia and South Australia.
A NSW Health spokesperson said the government planned to invest more than $13.5 million on tobacco control in 2018-19.
It will also continue to monitor compliance with laws on tobacco sales and smoke-free areas, including at hospitality venues.
“The current smoke-free areas were selected to prioritise public places that can be crowded and frequented by families and because they were supported by the public.”