This research conducted by Menzies School of Health Research ,NACCHO’s partner in the TATS (Talk About The Smokes) project
The number of Aboriginal people who smoke heavily almost has been halved over a 15-year period, a report has found.
A dramatic drop in the number of indigenous Australian heavy smokers could reduce deaths and disease caused by tobacco, research suggests.
The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day almost halved between 1994 and 2008, a report in the Medical Journal of Australia found.
The rate dropped from 17.3 per cent of indigenous people in 1994 to 9.4 per cent in 2008 – a 45 per cent decrease.
The decline occurred among both men and women, in remote and non-remote areas and included all age groups except older indigenous people.
However, those smoking one to 10 cigarettes a day increased by almost one-third, from 16.8 per cent to 21.6 per cent.
Smoking is the number one cause of chronic conditions and diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease among indigenous Australians.
Fifty per cent of indigenous people smoke compared with less than 20 per cent of the wider community.
Researcher Associate Professor David Thomas from the Menzies School of Health Research said it was well known that heavier smokers have higher health risks so the reduction was welcome news.
He said the decline happened before the federal government’s $100 million investment to reduce smoking in Aboriginal communities in 2010.
“We are riding a wave of change,” Assoc Prof Thomas told AAP.
“Reducing smoking intensity and prevalence will lead to reduced deaths and illness due to smoking.”
He said wider anti-tobacco campaigns and smoke-free laws introduced across the country may have had an impact on the drop in heavy smoking rates.
The changes may have come about by heavy smokers cutting down or young people not taking up the habit heavily, Assoc Prof Thomas said.
Although there have been widespread concerns about underreporting of cigarette smoking, he said earlier research in remote Northern Territory communities showed a correlation between cigarette sales and self-reported smoking.
The increase in light smokers was worrying so tobacco control programs need to take this group into account, Assoc Prof Thomas said.
He said the federal government program to tackle tobacco use could see indigenous smoking rates drop further.