Smoking key in Indigenous life expectancy gap


Health stakeholders have joined in promoting World No Tobacco Day (May 31) in a bid to stamp out tobacco-related illness

The World Health Organization highlighted how tobacco threatens the development of nations worldwide, and called on governments to implement strong tobacco control measures.

These include banning marketing and advertising of tobacco, promoting plain packaging of tobacco products, raising excise taxes, and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.

In Australia, the Cancer Council and National Heart Foundation got together to spotlight the fact that tobacco is the most significant preventable cause in the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda and National Heart Foundation tobacco control spokesperson, Mr Maurice Swanson, said Indigenous Australians are three times more likely to die of preventable causes as non-Indigenous Australians.

“Australia is a relatively wealthy country and a leader in tobacco control. The developing world bears most of the disease burden from tobacco and is increasingly exploited by the tobacco industry,” Professor Aranda said.

“However, the smoking rates and health outcomes in many Indigenous communities are comparable to some of the world’s poorest nations. Currently 39% of Indigenous Australians smoke compared with 12.8% of the general Australian population. In remote communities, this rises to 60%.

“It’s no coincidence that preventable death rates among Indigenous Australians are three times those of the general population—just as smoking rates are. In fact 20% of deaths in the Indigenous population are caused by smoking.

“Health disparities in Indigenous populations also relate to many other conditions associated with disadvantage. But if we could break the cycle of smoking, poor health and early death, we could make the greatest difference in closing the gap on life expectancy – and deliver additional benefits to health and wellbeing.”

Mr Swanson said successive Australians governments have been addressing the issue, but more needs to be done in recognition of the relationship between smoking and the life expectancy gap.

“We have seen some improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island smoking rates, which have dropped from almost 49% in 2002 to just under 39% today.

“The Tackling Indigenous Smoking Programme and its ‘Don’t Make Smokes your Story’ campaigns are excellent government investments, but we need to do more to reach people in remote communities.”

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