Efforts to combat high rates of smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women in the Northern Territory are set to be boosted with the release for the first time of wholesale tobacco data for all licensed tobacco retail outlets in the NT. The Lowitja Institute is funding an analysis of this new dataset, which is expected to become available to researchers early in 2012.
The collection of month-by-month wholesale tobacco data has recently become a condition of NT tobacco retail licences, with the requirement introduced as a direct result of the ‘Monitoring and Evaluating Aboriginal Tobacco Control’ research project funded by the CRC for Aboriginal Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council from 2007 until 2009.
That research, conducted by a team led by Associate Professor David Thomas – now the Lowitja Institute’s Associate Director of Research and Innovation – found that the unobtrusive collection of wholesale data has advantages over other methods, and ‘particular usefulness in discrete hard-to-reach populations, such as remote NT Aboriginal communities’.
‘The introduction of such monitoring in the NT… will be useful in informing and improving progress in fighting the tobacco epidemic among Indigenous and other NT residents,’ the researchers say in a paper published in May 2011 (for link, see below).
The extent of the tobacco epidemic among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is shown by the fact that, while 17 per cent of the overall Australian adult population are smokers, 47 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults smoke. Smoking prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living in the NT is even worse at 53 per cent – the highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking prevalence of any Australian jurisdiction.
Analysis of the new wholesale data will be conducted by Menzies School of Health Research applied statistician Matt Stevens, who says it will provide a window into smoking prevalence on a community-by-community basis.
‘Our team at Menzies is already analysing data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) and the National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS), which occur every three years,’ Matt says. ‘These are very comprehensive data sets based on exhaustive interviews with around 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These national surveys show how smoking relates to other factors, such as lifestyle, education, age and household income.’
‘The wholesale data will give us a much more detailed idea of tobacco consumption patterns and we’ll also be able to gauge how effective particular tobacco control programs are, by comparing consumption prior to the intervention and after the intervention has finished.’
The importance of tobacco control initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is highlighted by research that shows tobacco smoking was responsible for 12 per cent of the total burden of disease and one-fifth of deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in 2003. High smoking prevalence also contributes to the disproportionate rates of lung cancer afflicting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with males 1.7 times as likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer as other Australian males, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females 1.6 times as likely to be diagnosed as other Australian females (see research paper below for details of references for theses statistics).
To download the research paper Wholesale Data for Surveillance of Australian Aboriginal Tobacco Consumption in the Northern Territory, go to: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/20/4/291.abstract.