Number of Indigenous heavy smokers down 45%

The rate of heavy smoking among Indigenous people is on the decline, the study found. AAP/Dave Hunt

The number of Indigenous heavy smokers fell from 17.3% in 1994 to 9.4% in 2008, a relative drop of 45%, a study has found.

The study, conducted by the Menzies School of Health Research and published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, analysed data on from the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey, and the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. The first survey had 8565 respondents aged 15 and over, while the second survey had 7803 respondents aged 15 years and over.

The data showed that the number of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day was in steep decline.

“That is nearly a 50% reduction and the important thing to note is that this happened before the massive increase in resources for smoking reduction in 2009,” said study author Associate Professor David Thomas.

Nearly half of Indigenous adults smoke cigarettes and a fifth of Indigenous deaths are due to smoking, he said, but the decline in heavy smoking rates showed mainstream anti-smoking messages were getting through to Indigenous people.

“There is sometimes this notion that anything that’s not specifically targeted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people won’t have an impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But that’s not entirely true,” said Assoc Prof Thomas.

Despite the drop in the number of heavy smokers, the study also found that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders smoking between one and ten cigarettes per day from 16.8% in 1994 to 21.6% in 2008, a relative increase of 29%.