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Professor Tom Calma on defeating Covid and tackling tobacco

Prof Tom Calma Indigenous Health Division Department of Health Source: Supplied

Professor Tom Calma says that so far Australians, especially Indigenous Australians, have fared well during Covid-19. Despite the good news, he cautions that now is not the right time to let our guard down; and, on World No Tobacco Day (May 31) Professor Calma urges to stop smoking as it is the root cause of most of the comorbidities that make us vulnerable to Covid-19.

Looking at the incidence of Covid-19, Professor Tom Calma believes that Australians have been very lucky. And Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been super-lucky.

“There has been less than 60 of our Mob affected by Covid-19. Which is absolutely fantastic. In our remote communities we haven’t seen any incidence with some exceptions up in the Kimberley’s where Covid-19 infections took place,” Professor Tom Calma said in an interview with NITV Radio.

Professor Tom Calma says the worst was averted thanks to well informed community-led strategies. “We had community leadership and we also had Peak bodies leading this whole process to make sure that we stay safe.”

However, he cautions that now is not the time to let our guards down adding that it is imperative to keep Covid-19 away from population centres particularly away from elders, who are the most vulnerable.

“We, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are very vulnerable because we have co-morbidities; other diseases and illnesses that will make us more susceptible to getting Covid-19, in fact even the flu.”

Professor Calma is urging everyone to stay focused emphasizing that it could take only one infected person going back to the community and sparking a catastrophic spiral of infections.

Key points

  • There has been less than 60 of our Mob affected by Covid-19
  • Smokers spend 6 to $8 000 a year on tobacco and up to $14 000 for heavy smokers

  • Younger generations are less likely to take up smoking than their parents

“That’s why we’ve got to be really, really vigilant or very aware. If you do get a cold, if you get the sniffles or start coughing immediately contact your AMS or doctor to get tested. Because the earlier we can determine whether we’ve got Covid or not, the better.”

Smoking is one of the root causes of most of the comorbidities within First Nations peoples and, according to Professor Calma, it remains a big concern for health authorities.

“Even before Covid-19, smoking took too many of our people. Nearly half our population smoke and 2 in 10 will die of smoking-related diseases. Smoking has an impact on our heart, our lungs, our diabetes… “

He adds that every form of cancer can be attributed to smoking and it is not only whether a person smokes by themselves or not. Second-hand smoking can have a big impact as well. He also warns against the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes which might seem safer but are no safe options at all.

Professor Calma says now is a good time to stop smoking and refers to the situation in the UK where it is reported that 30 000 people have tried to stop smoking during the pandemic. He believes many of these people will eventually succeed and never light up again.

From a personal experience he knows that quitting can be an extremely difficult process to navigate. “I was a smoker. I gave up some 40 odd years ago. I gave up in 1977. It was hard to give up but when I did, I went Oh boy! Why did I ever smoke?  It is a challenge. It is hard but then think about our health. Think about our future.”


World No Tobacco Day 2020 : 'Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use.'


Professor Calma urges us all to encourage each other to give up smoking especially around other people. He cautions that smoking can affect us in many ways including on our wallets.

“People can spend 6 to 8 000 dollars a year on cigarettes. Even more if you smoke a packet a day; on a packet a day you are spending around 14 000 dollars a year. Which is amazing when you think about it.”

“If you are a smoker you don’t even think about it. Oh, it is just another packet of smokes. But it all adds up. Think of what you can do if you had an extra 5 or 10 000 dollars in your pocket.”

“As blackfellas we are dying too young. We’ve just got to think about it. Support our kids because our kids support us.”

“The kids understand a lot more. We see that a lot less kids are smoking now than they were in the past and a lot of people are giving up. So, it is not a totally bad news story because nothing is happening. People are giving up, particularly in cities.”

And, on World No Tobacco Day (Sunday May 31) Professor Calma urges the youth not to succumb to tobacco companies’ lures.

“The thing is tobacco companies are not there because they love us. They just want to sell more tobacco. There is so much money for them. A lot of BS is promoted by tobacco companies and their supporters.”

The theme of this year World No Tobacco Day is 'Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use.'

The message is about debunking myths and exposing tactics used by tobacco and related industries to attract younger people. The goals is to provide younger people the knowledge they need to detect industry manipulation.




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