Traditional smoking ceremonies have a long history in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and are believed to cleanse and remove bad spirits. While smoking ceremonies are an important and positive part of Indigenous cultures, tobacco smoking is not.

Tobacco smoking is responsible for around one in five deaths for Indigenous Australians.1 It is the most preventable cause of ill health and early death.2

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rates have declined 10 percentage points between 2002 to 2014-15, 39% of those aged 15 years and over smoke tobacco every day.3

We know it’s bad, but why do we do it?

Many factors influence tobacco smoking in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities including4:


Word Map of factors that influence tobacco smoking in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The Good News

Seventy percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders adults who were daily smokers in 2012-2013 reported that they want to quit , 69 percent had ever made a quit attempt, and 48 percent made a quit attempt in the previous year.5 This means that the majority of Indigenous Australians who smoke want to quit and are making attempts to live a smoke-free life.

The more we understand why we smoke, the better our changes are of beating this harsh addiction. Learn more about quitting here.

Chewing Tobacco

Native tobacco, Pituri, is still prepared according to traditional methods and plays a valued role in ceremonies in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.6

Pituri is not the only type of tobacco that is being chewed. Some Indigenous Australians also chew tobacco that was manufactured for smoking.5

Current evidence shows chewing tobacco or smokeless tobacco has risk7 and is associated with cancers of the lip and other areas of the mouth and throat.8 However the prevalence and health effects of chewing tobacco in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities require further investigation.



1 Vos, T, Barker, B, Stanley, L & Lopez, AD 2009, The burden of disease and injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 2003, School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012, Risk factors contributing to chronic disease, Canberra: AIHW.

3 ABS, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014-15, released 28 April 2016, Health Risk Factors.

4 The Cancer Council Victoria. 2013. Tobacco in Australia - Chapter 8: Tobacco use among Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. Retrieved from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-8-aptsi

5 Nicholson, A, Borland, R, Davey, M, Stevens 7 Thomas, D 2015, Past quit attempts in a national sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers, Medical Journal of Australia, vol.202, no.10, pp20-25.

6 Lindorff, KJ 2002, Tobacco time for action: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tobacco Control Project final report. Canberra: National Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

7 Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Products Regulation. Recommendation on Smokeless Tobacco Products. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002.

8 World Health Organization. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Volume 89: Smokeless Tobacco and Some Tobacco-Specific N-Nitrosamines. Lyon (France): World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2007