Those interested in aboriginal health often focus on issues of alcohol consumption and poor diet that produce the atrocious health outcomes of aboriginals. But in terms of heath damage nothing comes close to rivaling the damaging effects of cigarette smoking. It is not something that should be swept under the carpet - that a male aboriginal born in 2001 will die 17 years earlier than a non-indigenous male born in the same year is strongly linked to high rates of cigarette smoking.
In 1995, about 51% of indigenous adults smoked (ABS (1999)). Ten years later, the proportion of the indigenous population who smoke is unchanged, while the proportion in the non-indigenous population is 17 per cent (ABS (2006)). Higher rates of smoking are associated with lower socio-economic status, unemployment and early school leaving. These are characteristics of much of the indigenous population. Dispossession and dislocation are thought to contribute to the low self-esteem which is also associated with smoking. Members of the ‘stolen generations’References
are more likely to smoke than other Indigenous Australians (Baker et al. (2006)).
Indigenous Australians are ill-informed of the dangers of smoking: a 1994 survey showed that one third thought it was safe to smoke up to one pack of cigarettes a day (ABS (1996)). While the level of understanding is likely to have increased since that survey, many people were unaware, for example, of the link between smoking and diabetes complications in 2004. There is little awareness of the dangers of passive smoking and of smoking while pregnant (NACCHO (2004)).
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (1996). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey 1994: Health of Indigenous Australians. Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) Tobacco Smoking in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004-05. Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (1999). National Health Survey: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Results, Australia, 1995, Canberra.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, (2004). Tobacco Time For Action: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tobacco Control Project.