Ensuring no smoker is left behind

Aug 21 2017

Professor Billie Bonevski

University of Newcastle researchers are calling for better resources to aid all Australians to quit smoking, with particular focus on population subgroups at greater risk.

A new discussion paper, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, highlights the need for more comprehensive research and focus on priority groups more susceptible to addiction with fewer resources to help them quit.

Lead researcher Professor Billie Bonevski, an affiliate of the Hunter Medical Research Institute based at Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital, said that to ensure Australia works towards a greater reduction in the smoking population, tobacco control should include more interventions aimed at high-risk groups.

“Groups at greater risk include those of lower socio-economic status, individuals with poor mental health, those incarcerated and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Tobacco use is also 1.7 times greater in remote areas of Australia than major cities.

“We know from past research that this dependency comes down to factors such as heavier nicotine dependence, reduced access to and use of aids to help them quit, cultural norms and social pressures,” Professor Bonevski said.

The population of Australian adult smokers is currently 14% compared to 31% in 1986, with the nation working towards a government goal to reduce the number to 10% by 2020.

“Although making headway, we really have to address that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The number of smokers may have dropped Australia-wide, but we know that numbers are still problematic or have risen in populations at greater risk.

Moving forward, Professor Bonevski stressed that a truly comprehensive approach to tobacco control should include targeted campaigns in high smoking prevalence populations, tailored interventions, increased access to quitting aids, testing tobacco harm reduction approaches and increased partnerships with local health and welfare organisations.

“Smoking plays a huge role in impacting the health and wellbeing of all Australians, and heavily contributes to health issues like respiratory diseases, cancers and cardiovascular disease. But priority populations bare a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease. What we need is further research to determine what works in priority populations and ensure rapid roll-out of effective programs in communities.

“The ultimate goal would be for Australia to focus more attention on the groups being left behind in order to ensure all Australians have the resources they need to reduce the harm that tobacco is inflicting on people and take steps towards a better life for themselves and their communities,” she said.

*HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.