Tobacco

Tobacco (cigarette) smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has led to many negative outcomes in terms of health and wellbeing. Smoking is now common in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, despite it not being a traditional part of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultures [34613].

Tobacco comes from the dried leaves of the tobacco plant. It contains nicotine, a stimulant drug that speeds up messages travelling between the brain and the body. Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction [31577].

As well as nicotine, there are more than 7000 chemicals in tobacco, and at least 250 are known to be harmful [31575]. Of these 250 harmful chemicals, at least 60 can cause cancer. These chemicals are the reason why people get sick and experience long term harms from smoking.

Smoking can contribute to a number of short and long term harms. Short terms harms include: increased heart beat; reduced appetite; stomach cramps and nausea; and loss of taste and smell. In the long term smoking causes cancer and lung disease [31577].

Tobacco and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

A large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoke [34617][34613]. In recent years, almost half of the population above the age of 15 and over were current daily smokers. Recent tobacco control efforts have seen a substantial drop in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoking, but tobacco is still the major cause of ill-health and disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoking in rural and remote areas is also a concern, as tobacco control efforts do not seem to be as effective in these areas.

There are a number of reasons why smoking is so high in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including: higher levels of stress; because it’s considered ‘normal’ in some communities (like flour and sugar, tobacco was given out as part of rations for labour); because of grief over past injustices; and because of social disadvantage such as poor housing or unemployment [29610][29689][34613] .

For a summary of statistical information updated yearly on tobacco use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, see also our latest Overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status.

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Key resources

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