Slight reduction in Indigenous smoking, but binge drinking a worry

There has been a small decline in smoking rates among Indigenous Australians in recent years, although rates remain high, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, shows that about half of Indigenous Australians smoke regularly, about two and a half times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.

However, the rate of smoking has dropped from 53% to about 50% between 2002 and 2008.

‘More than half of Indigenous mothers (51%) continue to smoke during pregnancy, a rate that remained steady between 2001 and 2008,’ said report co-author Helen Johnstone.

The report found that a greater proportion of Indigenous Australians abstain from drinking alcohol than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

’In 2008, 29% of Indigenous Australians did not drink alcohol in the previous 12 months—almost double the rate of non-Indigenous Australians,’ Ms Johnstone said.

‘In addition, the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians who were long-term, risky or high risk drinkers was similar—15% and 14% respectively.

‘However, the rate of binge drinking is a concern. In 2004-05, Indigenous Australians were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to binge drink—17% and 8% respectively.’

Indigenous people died from alcohol-related causes at 5 times the rate of non-Indigenous people.

The report also examines illicit drug use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘About one quarter of Indigenous Australians reported having used an illicit substance in the last 12 months, a rate that remained stable between 2002 and 2008,’ Ms Johnstone said.

Marijuana was the most common substance used (17%), followed by non-medicinal use of pain-killers/analgesics (5%), and amphetamines or speed (5%).

Tobacco smoking was the main risk factor contributing to the disease burden in the Indigenous population, but alcohol use was the most common cause of hospitalisations due to substance use.

‘Substance use is a significant contributor to the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in terms of life expectancy and overall health,’ Ms Johnstone said.


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