ACT News

Call for ACT government to help disadvantaged Canberrans quit smoking

The ACT's peak drug body has called on the territory government to address a disparity in smoking rates among disadvantaged communities after the release of alarming research from the Australian National University.

The research, released last week and described by academics as "a huge wake-up call", found two-thirds of Australian smokers would be killed by their habit unless they are able to quit in coming years.

A large proportion of smokers in the ACT are disadvantaged people.
A large proportion of smokers in the ACT are disadvantaged people. Photo: Tamara Voninski

Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT executive officer Carrie Fowlie said the territory and federal government should be praised for introducing smoke-free legislation but more needed to be done to target smokers in disadvantaged communities.  

"A large and significant proportion of smokers in the ACT are disadvantaged people," she said.

"Approximately 11 per cent of the population – or almost 40,000 Canberrans – are daily smokers and based on the ANU data this means around 26,000 of these smokers will die if they continue smoking."

ANU researcher Professor Emily Banks said the study revealed the  health affects of smoking were worse than previously thought.


"Our findings show that up to two in every three of these smokers can be expected to die from their habit if they don't quit and this highlights the importance of staying the course on tobacco control," she said.

The four-year study assessed the health outcomes of more than 200,000 people who participated in a program co-ordinated by the Sax Institute in Sydney.

Ms Fowlie said recent studies indicated 90 per cent of Canberrans in drug treatment were smokers; along with 85 per cent of prisoners, 77 per cent of the homeless and 66 per cent of those with psychosis.

"One of the myths about smoking is that disadvantaged people don't want to quit or cannot do so, and that's not true," she said.

"Disadvantaged smokers are as interested in quitting smoking as others but are less likely to succeed without additional assistance."

Ms Fowlie said much of the focus on tobacco controls had been at a population level with taxation or smoke-free legislation but there were limits to further action.

"There is no more low hanging fruits and we need some concerted efforts," she said.

"We need to invest in complementary programs and services for disadvantaged people.

"We need to maintain our efforts at a population level and then complement them with tailored support services and interventions for disadvantaged groups."

The ANU study demonstrated the continuing harms of smoking despite tobacco control measures, and the need for continuing attention and controls.

"The introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes in Australia in 2012 is an example of the continuing efforts required," it said.

Ms Fowlie said it was exciting the research was led by the ANU and that Canberra was contributing to the national debate.

She said the association had been calling on the government to introduce smoking cessation programs; a core component of services that work with disadvantaged communities in the ACT.

"Some agencies have prioritised tobacco programs in the past but it can be difficult to do so without additional resources or support," she said.

"Other are worried that if they change their approach to smoking policies then people who are at risk might not access their services, so they need the skills to know how to engage with these people."

Ms Fowlie said there was not enough assistance for non-government agencies that wished to implement smoke-free policies.

"Some of these agencies are quite large in size and to make this shift is a big cultural change that takes time," she said.