Nearly three-quarters of Australian men and over a quarter of Australian women smoked in 1945.
Today, public health initiatives have helped reduce the number of smokers to around 17 per cent of the general population. However, 47 per cent of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders are still smoking.
“In some of our communities it’s higher, 80 per cent plus,” says Aboriginal elder and social rights campaigner, Dr Tom Calma AO. “We’ve got a target to halve the smoking rate by 2018.”
Calma is leading the charge as the National Co-coordinator for the Tacking Indigenous Smoking program, which he will be speaking about in his keynote address at the Commitment to Indigenous Health: Local and National Contributions to Meeting the Challenges conference next week.
“The Commonwealth Government has devoted $106M over four years to establish a work force across the nation to go out — outside of the clinical setting and into the community — to inform people about the hazards of smoking and the benefits of not smoking.”
Regional Tackling Smoking & Healthy Lifestyle Teams in 57 regions across the nation are working with smokers to help them kick the habit, and also with non-smokers to ensure they don’t start.
A far cry from the campaigns of shocking images and heartbreaking stories, Calma and his teams are approaching the problem from a different angle.
“My teams don’t always talk about the negative aspects of smoking; they put a positive spin on it,” says Calma.
“If you don’t smoke you are going to be healthier, you’re going to save money — up to $6000 a year for a pack a day smoker. And with that money you could then take your family on a holiday. The average pack a day smoker smokes the equivalent of four return air tickets to Los Angeles a year.”
“When we give them information in a way that’s non-threatening and they can understand, they respond.
“People need to make informed decisions about their own health. Governments can’t make people healthy; we have to do it ourselves.”