Spotlight on lung health with ongoing pandemic

Updated 8 Sep 2021.

Spotlight on lung health with ongoing pandemic

Make Smoking History has relaunched one of Australia's most memorable anti-tobacco campaigns, ‘Sponge', in a bid to prompt people who smoke to quit for their respiratory health in the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Cancer Prevention and Research Director, Melissa Ledger, said the campaign aims to get people thinking about the negative health effects each cigarette is having on their health, particularly their lungs, and to motivate people to stop smoking.

"We know that smoking can put you at greater risk of getting chest infections and influenza, and emerging evidence suggests that smoking can be a significant risk factor for more severe symptoms of COVID-19; this is largely because COVID-19 affects our lungs," Ms Ledger said.

"In addition to respiratory health, smoking causes up to 16 cancer types, all of which increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and adverse outcomes due to compromised immunity in patients.

"There is also evidence that if you have other health conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer, you are more likely to experience severe complications of COVID-19, and smoking can increase the risk of many of these conditions."

Ms Ledger said anti-tobacco public education campaigns like ‘Sponge' are a key component of a comprehensive approach to driving down smoking rates in WA.

"The highly successful ‘Sponge' campaign first aired in WA in 2014 and then again in 2016 with evaluation indicating more than 50 per cent of smokers who saw the ad said it prompted them to discuss quitting with family, friends or work colleagues," she said.

"Although anti-tobacco campaigns have been around for a long time there is still work to be done and we have not given up on supporting people to stop smoking, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues throughout Australia, and the world.

"Quitting smoking has the potential to be life-changing, now more than ever. If you smoke, we urge you to use this time as incentive to stop once and for all."

Prof. Fraser Brims, Respiratory Physician at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Curtin Medical School, said studies suggest smokers who contract COVID-19 are 40-50 per cent more likely to develop severe symptoms and die from the disease.

"We see first-hand the damage caused by smoking and the devastation brought to family and friends left behind when a loved one dies due to smoking. And, more recently, we have been seeing the devastation from COVID-19," Prof. Fraser Brims said.

"We know that smokers are more likely to catch respiratory viruses, and people that have smoked for years may have physical damage in the lungs; together this makes it harder for your lungs to fight COVID-19 if you are a smoker."

The ‘Sponge' campaign will be run across TV (including AFL), broadcast video on demand, radio, outdoor, digital, and social media until 20 November 2021.



To access support through a quit attempt:

  • Contact the Quitline:
    • Call the Quitline on 13 7848,
    • Chat online at or
    • Request a call back by texting 0477 765 007
  • Download MyQuitBuddy app
  • Visit Makes Smoking History.
  • Seek advice and support from your GP, Aboriginal Health Worker, Telehealth service or pharmacist.
  • Visit QuitCoach.


More information

  • Make Smoking History is an initiative of Cancer Council WA and proudly supported by the Department of Health WA and Healthway.
  • 'Sponge' features an image of a pair of hands wringing out a sponge, which represents a smoker's lung. The sponge is wrung out into a beaker with the amount of cancer-producing tar which goes into the lungs of a person who smokes a pack-a-day over one year.
  • 'Sponge' was originally created for and run by NSW Department of Health in the late 70's, and then revamped for Cancer Institute NSW in 2007.
  • In 1983, there was 87 per cent recall campaign rate in NSW for ‘Sponge' and associated with a 3.4 per cent decrease in smoking prevalence in Sydney during the first six months of the campaign.
  • In 2019, 9.8 per cent of people in WA (16 years and over) were classified as current smokers
    • 59 per cent of people had never smoked in 2019
    • 8.1 per cent of people were daily smokers1
  • Smoking is responsible for more disease burden than any other risk factor
    • Smoking accounts for 9.3 per cent of the burden of disease in Australia2

1 Dombrovskaya M and Landrigan T. 2020. Health and Wellbeing of Adults in Western Australia 2019, Overview and Trends. Department of Health, Western Australia.
2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Burden of tobacco use in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015. Australian Burden of Disease series no. 21. Cat. no. BOD 20. Canberra: AIHW.

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