Smoking shock as tobacco kills one in two older Indigenous adults

27 January 2021

Staggering statistics reveal smoking causes half of all deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged over 45 - and over one-third of all deaths in the population.

A “world-first” Australian National University study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology this week, reveals smoking has killed more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians since 2010.

The study is the first to directly quantify smoking-attributable mortality in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, with the authors calling for more Government support and funding to combat the scourge.

“It is the position of the ANMF that funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health must remain a priority and be aligned with identified needs,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj. Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

The ANU study found 80 per cent of “never-smokers” would live to the age of 75, compared to just 40 per cent of current smokers. Quitting before the age of 45 delivered mortality risks similar to never- smokers, while quitting at any age would bring substantial benefits. For example, those who quit at age 45–54 years had a mortality risk half that of current-smokers but double that of never-smokers. Never-smokers could enjoy more than an extra decade of life compared to current-smokers.

With smoking prevalent among Indigenous people, the study authors said the findings “highlight the magnitude of smoking-related harms, and the urgent need to prevent smoking initiation and to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers to quit”.

They said the harms of smoking and the contribution to population-level mortality may be underestimated by not accounting for second-hand smoke (SHS) exposure. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have higher SHS exposure than the non-Indigenous population.

“These findings provide a clear case for sustained and increased outcome-focused action in tobacco control, prioritising the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and supported by total population approaches,’’ the ANU study authors said.

“Continuing reductions in youth uptake, increasing cessation (at all ages) and reducing SHS exposure should be national priorities.

“The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers want to quit. However, the legacies of historical policies, entrenched dependence, a history of comprehensive and pervasive marketing and a predatory tobacco industry have undermined choice.

“For Indigenous peoples, there is an urgent need to empower an informed choice to be smoke-free, addressing dependence in context. Our findings demonstrate the clear need for high-quality population-specific data for Indigenous populations globally.’’