Smoking down but deaths still to rise

An epidemic of smoking-related deaths is about to hit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, health researchers have warned.

A research team led by Dr Raymond Lovett from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University has predicted the number of smoking-related deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians will peak in the next decade.

In a paper published in the Public Health Research & Practice journal, researchers said the number of Indigenous people Australia-wide who smoked was down from 55 percent in 1994 to 41 percent in 2014-15, but a lag between smoking and illness meant the number of deaths would keep climbing this decade.

“We have seen significant decreases in smoking prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, which will bring substantial health benefits in both the short and long term,” Dr Lovett said.

“However, we will continue to see the health consequences of tobacco use from up to 30 years ago – when smoking prevalence was at its peak – because of the delay between smoking and the onset of diseases such as lung cancer.

“We are about to see the full effects of tobacco’s lethal legacy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

The research paper said a “dramatic” decrease in smoking in the total population suggested the smoking epidemic for all Australians was in its final stages, but for the Indigenous population the worst was still to come.

Dr Lovett said progress made in reducing tobacco use would not be reflected in a reduction in the number of deaths until further down the track.

Wendy Caccetta


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