Some areas of Australia are stuck in a smoking time warp

Public Health

By Michael Woodhead

30 May 2019

Deprived areas of Australia still have smoking rates as high as 40%, not seen nationally since the 1980s, researchers revealed on World No Tobacco Day.

While the national average smoking rate has dramatically declined to just 14% in recent decades, some areas still have one in three or more adults smoking on a daily basis

At the current rate of decline, it will take 31 years before these areas reach the current national smoking rate, say researchers from Victoria University, Melbourne.

In Tasmania, the suburbs of Bridgewater and Risdon Vale had daily smoking rates among adults of 39% and 34%, respectively. Other areas with alarmingly high rates of daily smoking rates included the western Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt (31.2% of people smoking daily), Corio in Victoria (29.5%), Kingaroy in Queensland (28.3%), Carnarvon in WA (27.8%), Wallaroo in SA (26.9%) and Katherine in the NT (29.7%).

This means that around one in seven people in these areas will die of an illness caused by smoking, according to Mitchell Institute researcher Ben Harris.

In contrast, affluent suburbs such as Sydney’s northern beaches and Melbourne’s Balwyn had rates much lower than the national average, at around 7-8% of adults smoking daily.

“Smoking kills, and it looks like around five times more people are going to die in Mount Druitt and Tamworth than in Kur-ing-Gai in inner Sydney,” Mr Harris said.

He said that highlighting which communities have the highest smoking rates can assist governments to better target their limited advertising and health services budgets to those communities.

“We know where we live, where we work and who we know influences smoking. We also know that the best way to stop children picking up the habit is to support the adults around them to quit smoking,” he said.

“It’s important that Quit campaigns and health professionals target their messaging to specific communities where smoking rates remain stubbornly high.”

“We know the Quit smoking messages, combined with information on packaging about disease caused by smoking is very effective in encouraging people to quit. Using local approaches and local knowledge could help make sure that all Australians are given the best opportunity to quit smoking and improve their health and wellbeing.”

National smoking rates have been on a steady decline since its peak in the 1970s when almost three quarters of Australian men, and one quarter of women, smoked.

“Overall, our success is lauded internationally, and we have some of the lowest smoking rates in the world,” Mr Harris said. “However, our national success story hides some troubling local data.”

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