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Aboriginal smoking rates down but Govt target a tough ask

A recently published paper has confirmed earlier findings that smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in decline, but says that the rate of decline will need to increase substantially if the Federal Government’s goal of halving smoking prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians by 2018 is to be achieved.

The paper by Associate Professor David Thomas – the Lowitja Institute’s Associate Director Research and Innovation – found that male smoking prevalence fell from 58.5 per cent to 52.6 per cent and female prevalence fell from 51 per cent to 47.4 per cent in the period 1994–2008. There were similar declines in male smoking prevalence in remote and non-remote areas, but female smoking prevalence decreased in non-remote areas and increased in remote areas. 

The research used data collected by four separate government surveys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health conducted over the same period.

‘Successful quitting increased in both men and women, and remote and non-remote areas, from 2002 to 2008,’ the paper says. ‘The prevalence of ex-smokers increased significantly (and) the percentage of ever-smokers who had quit… increased significantly in men (23.2% to 29.3%) and women (24.2% to 30.8%).

‘The annual absolute decrease in smoking prevalence of 0.4% for Indigenous men is about half the fall among all Australian men, and the annual decline of 0.5% for non-remote Indigenous women is about the same as for all Australian women.’

Interestingly, this decline in smoking prevalence preceded the current $100 million government campaign to tackle smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which began in 2010.

‘It is possible that changed Indigenous social norms around quitting and smoking have preceded the increase in Indigenous cessation support and quit campaigns that are now being provided,’ the paper says.

However, the paper makes clear that the Federal Government’s goal of halving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking prevalence by 2018 will require ‘rates of absolute decline (that) are much larger than has occurred in other countries’.

‘We can be emboldened by the historical trends in this paper, especially as these occurred at a time when there was minimal investment in Indigenous-specific tobacco control,’ the paper says. ‘But to meet the (Government’s) challenge, smoking prevalence will need to fall more than six times as quickly as it did from 1994 to 2008, while smoking prevalence among the many Indigenous women who live in remote areas has yet to start falling.’

The paper, ‘National Trends in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking and quitting, 1994–2008’, appeared in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health earlier this year and can be downloaded via the Publications area of our website.


ISSUE 6 / APRIL 2012 Page 5
Created: 07 June 2012 - Updated: 26 October 2018