• Australia made public health history in 2011 with the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act. (Getty Images AsiaPac)Source: Getty Images AsiaPac
Graphic health warning labels appear to be making a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers and their attitudes towards quitting.
Chloe Warren

6 Feb 2017 - 4:21 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2017 - 4:53 PM

Cigarette carton labelling laws, introduced under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, are changing smoking attitudes among Indigenous Australians, according to a new study by the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.

The research, released this month, suggests that the 2011 Act is successful in reducing the appeal of tobacco products and in increasing the effectiveness of health warnings, specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers.

Talking About the Smokes

The study, which is part of the national ‘Talking About the Smokes’ project (led by Menzies in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services), reports on surveys conducted by 642 individuals.

The researchers found that those who often notice the health warning labels were more likely to be able to identify the harms of smoking.

“It's hardly surprising - but it is reassuring that those warning labels contribute to knowledge, because we know that knowledge does lead to behaviour change,” says the study’s lead researcher, Associate Professor David Thomas.

Indeed, of those questioned, 30 per cent said they had foregone smoking a cigarette because of the warning labels in the last month alone.

“The more you try to quit, the more likely it is that you will succeed."

While choosing not to smoke one cigarette might not seem like much on its own, this pattern of behaviour was found to be associated with an interest in quitting, as well as attempts to quit.

“It takes on average about nine attempts to quit successfully,” says public health researcher Dr Flora Tzelepis, commenting on her peer’s encouraging findings.

“People learn from those experiences with each attempt. They might pick up things that worked well or they might find that they need to avoid certain triggers.

“So the more you try, the more likely it is that you will succeed - because very few people will successfully quit on their first attempt.”

Decreasing smoking rates

Just under two in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 and over smoke daily.

Smoking is responsible for 23 per cent of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – but smoking rates among Indigenous Australians have been decreasing over the last decade.

“It’s fallen by 10 per cent - from 49-to-39 per cent,” confirms A/Prof Thomas.

“What we've been able to show with this broader Talking About the Smokes project is that people want to quit, they're trying to quit, they regret having started and they're making their homes smoke free.”

“I am optimistic that smoking rates among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will keep coming down."

A/Prof Thomas says he is excited by these findings because it shows that generic health programs (as opposed to strategies specifically tailored for sub-sections of the population) can be successful in promoting the health of Indigenous Australians.

“I am optimistic that smoking rates among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will keep coming down, and that established ways that have worked so well in the rest of the population will work for those smokers too.

“We're just going to see a really fantastic reduction in the harm that smoking causes for people and their families.

“This is low hanging fruit.”

read more
30 images that put a face on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
A new photographic exhibition highlights the important role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.
The shame of being a smoking parent
Now that his children have reached the age that they are storing first memories, does Ian Rose want their abiding image of him to be as a smoker? Could this be the motivating factor he’s been looking for all these years?