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Tobacco control in Australia has contributed significantly to the declining smoking rates across Australia, however, smoking rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain alarmingly high.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, tobacco smoking is the most preventable cause of ill health and early death, and is responsible for around one in five deaths. It is directly responsible for a third of cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence.

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rates have declined by seven percentage points since 2002 (as of 2013), accompanied by a significant increase in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have never smoked,1 the gap in smoking rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are 2.5 times as likely to smoke as non-Indigenous Australians.2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 4 times as likely to smoke during pregnancy as non-Indigenous women (in 2011, 50% smoked during pregnancy).

An estimated 57% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-14 years live in households with a current daily smoker compared with 26% of non-Indigenous children.3

Unlike the non-Indigenous population, there is no substantial difference in smoking rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women.

The Council of Australian Governments National Healthcare Agreement includes a target to halve the daily smoking rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults (aged 18 years or older) from the 2008 rate of 47.7%,4 by 2018.

The Government is making significant investments to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rates.

The Government has developed nationwide media campaigns targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as part of the National Tobacco Campaign, including Break the Chain - the first ever national advertising campaign across television, radio, digital, and print, urging Indigenous Australians to break the chain and quit smoking. As part of the More Targeted Approach, Quit for You, Quit for Two, materials were developed to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pregnant women and their partners to quit smoking including: television; radio; print; digital and a quit smoking app.

Through the Indigenous Australians Health Programme (IAHP), the Government has also delivered a targeted programme to reduce Indigenous smoking rates, the Tackling Indigenous Smoking programme (TIS).

The TIS programme has a budget of $116.8 million over three years ($35.3 million in 2015-16; $37.5 million in 2016-17 and $44 million in 2017-18) and consists of the following components:

  • Regional tobacco control grants to support multi-level approaches to tobacco control that are locally designed and delivered to prevent the uptake of smoking and support smoking cessation among Indigenous Australians.
  • A National Best Practice Unit (NBPU) to support regional tobacco control grant recipients through evidence-based resource sharing, information dissemination, advice and mentoring, workforce development, and monitoring and evaluation.
  • Enhancements to existing Quitline services and provision of frontline community and health worker brief intervention training.
  • Targeted projects and associated evaluations in areas of high need including those of significant disadvantage associated with high smoking rates at or above 50%, and within specific groups such as pregnant women and young people susceptible to taking up smoking.
For further information on the Tackling Indigenous Smoking programme, visit the Chronic Disease web page.

Reference list

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, 2012-13 – Australia, released June 2014. Table 10.3 Smoker Status by Age.
2 Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2014 Report, AHMAC, Canberra. http://www.dpmc.gov.au/indigenous-affairs/publication/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-health-performance-framework-2014-report
3 Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2014 Report, AHMAC, Canberra. http://www.dpmc.gov.au/indigenous-affairs/publication/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-health-performance-framework-2014-report
4 This is the rate from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Updated Results, 2012-13 – Australia (Released 6 June 2014). Cat. No. 4727.0.55.066. Table 1.3: Selected characteristics – 2001 to 2012-13, proportion of persons by Indigenous status