Aboriginal health leaders say changes to tobacco packaging are a small step in the battle to reduce smoking rates and Close the Gap?
Mr Justin Mohamed, Chair of NACCHO representing over 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations today welcomed the decision of the High Court of Australia to reject the legal challenge by big tobacco companies, but cautioned that changes in packaging would have only minor impact in reducing the current Aboriginal (15 yrs.+) smoking rate of 47% (no n Aboriginal rate 15.1%).
“Tobacco smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of premature death amongst Aboriginal people, impacting on the health of individuals and contributing to the devastation of our communities. It accounts for one out of every five (20%) of deaths among Aboriginal Australians and for 17% of the health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.Tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease account for one third of all deaths’’ Mr Mohamed said.
Mr Mohamed explained it is important to understand that smoking is not a single issue for Aboriginal people but is interwoven with other factors such as poverty, low levels of education, lack of employment opportunities, poor nutrition, disempowerment and stress.
“In many Aboriginal communities where stress is a lived daily reality it is therefore not surprising that smoking rates remain high especially with the unemployed and others on various welfare subsidies and that children are exposed to smoking behavior, “ Mr Mohamed said.
“Our NACCHO Talking about the Smokes (TATS) research partner Menzies School of Health Research recently cautioned that efforts to tackle high smoking rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres people must not add to the stigma often faced by these groups. They stated that Australian’s should blame the industry, not the people who suffer from its products. This High Court decision goes a long way to support this argument.”
“The efforts of hard-working staff across our member services, to address the depth and the complexity of health issues facing our communities, is inspirational but they are battling to Close the Gap within a generation if the governments at all levels do not address the wide range of social issues faced by many Aboriginal Australians.”
In closing Mr Mohamed said NACCHO would especially acknowledge the work of Minister Nicola Roxon who in her former role as Health Minister and her current role as Attorney-General has driven this.
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