A new study from The Australian National University has found smoking was the cause of death for half the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 45 and older.
The study began in 2006 and followed 1,388 people for ten years before analysing the data.
Study lead Dr Katie Thurber said the results were shocking.
“Smoking is killing one in two older adults, and we found smokers have four times the risk of early death compared to those who have never smoked,” she said.
“This is the first time we have had data specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Our findings show that we have underestimated the impact of smoking.
“It causes nearly double the deaths that we previously thought.”
Study co-author associate professor Raymond Lovett said Australia Day was a good opportunity to reflect on our colonial history, including how commercial tobacco was introduced to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how tobacco was used as a form of payment, which has caused nicotine dependence.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and local communities are leading the way in tobacco control efforts and how they want to address tobacco use in their community through the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program. This is a great example of self-determination,” he said.
Although smoking rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have dropped in recent years, experts have called for more action to reduce smoking.
Tackling Indigenous Smoking National Coordinator Professor Tom Calma, AO said the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tobacco control program doesn’t reach the whole population.
“We need everyone to have access to appropriate programs and supports to reduce tobacco use,” he said.
“If smoking is a bigger problem than we thought, then funding should be increased to match the size of the problem.”
Dr Thurber said the results of the study, which followed the participants for 10 years, showed the more cigarettes smoked, the higher the risk of death.
“Even smoking between one to 14 cigarettes per day triples your risk of early death compared to never smoking. No amount of smoking is safe,” she said.
Associate professor Lovett said the study found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who never smoked lived an extra 10 years compared to those who smoke.
“Quitting smoking at any age lowers your risk of early death, and the earlier you quit, the better,” he said.
“This study shows smoking has taken the lives of more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the last 10 years.”
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