Professor Freddy Sitas, Director of the Cancer Research Division at Cancer Council NSW, and his co-authors, from the Schools of Public Health of Queensland and Adelaide Universities said death notification forms should include voluntary questions such as whether the deceased had ever smoked, the age at which he or she stopped smoking and whether the next-of-kin was a smoker.
"Including questions on the smoking status of the deceased on death notification forms would allow more detailed estimates to be made of tobacco-attributed mortality in Australia. Our current estimates of tobacco killing 15,000 to 19,000 people in Australia per annum are becoming too blunt and imprecise," Prof Sitas said.
"It could also help develop a clearer picture of the contribution tobacco smoking makes to causes of deaths such as vascular disease, various forms of cancer, kidney disease, tuberculosis and ulcers.
"It would provide invaluable, contemporary and precise information to help monitor the current state of the tobacco epidemic and its evolution over time, aiding the evolution of our strong tobacco control program in Australia. It would also provide direct local evidence on the benefits of quitting smoking," Prof Sitas said.
According to Prof Sitas, the information would also enable estimates of tobacco-attributable deaths in groups in the community defined by geographic location, Indigenous status or place of birth.
Prof Sitas said privacy concerns could be addressed in many ways. The most straightforward would be allowing the next-of-kin or family informant of a deceased person to decline to answer smoking-related questions.
"Asking the same smoking-related questions of the next-of-kin or family informant would enable us to create a living control group for comparison purposes," Prof Sitas said
The Medical Journal of Australia
is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.