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Featured News AITHM researchers put preventive health back on the agenda by tackling smoking in Indigenous communities

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Tue, 6 Dec 2016

AITHM researchers put preventive health back on the agenda by tackling smoking in Indigenous communities

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University will play a significant role in major new projects in the Northern Territory and Queensland aimed at reducing smoking and its harm to Indigenous communities.

AITHM’s Associate Professor Alan Clough said the collaborative projects will be of tremendous benefit to northern Australian Indigenous populations.

“Tobacco use is of particular concern for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, amongst whom smoking prevalence is significantly higher than in the non-Indigenous population, and the rate is not falling as it is in the rest of Australia.

“Our previous studies demonstrate that reducing indigenous smoking and reducing harm from tobacco smoke is achievable,” he said.  

Several funding bodies are supporting these projects.

National Heart Foundation Vanguard Grant: ‘Top End’ Smoke-free Spaces Project

The National Heart Foundation (NHF) has awarded Associate Professor Clough a proof-of-concept ‘Vanguard’ grant.  Working with his Indigenous collaborators, he will design an intervention to encourage smoke free homes in remote communities.  The effects of incentives for householders combined with managing and monitoring indoor second-hand smoke exposure will be evaluated.  These grants are highly competitive.  The NHF Research Committee noted in awarding the grant: “…the extremely high quality of applications received this year.”

This project arises from Associate Professor Clough’s collaborations - which again place JCU and the AITHM at the forefront of efforts to prevent chronic disease caused by tobacco in rural and remote northern Australia.  Tobacco smoking continues to be the most preventable cause of ill health and early death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. So, it is important to work in partnership with Indigenous communities and support smoke-free areas to reduce exposure.

Heart Foundation Queensland CEO, Stephen Vines, said it was important for the Heart Foundation to fund research projects on smoking interventions.

“Associate Professor Clough’s research into creating smoke-free spaces in Indigenous communities addresses a big health issue and should benefit the most vulnerable – children and the elderly, who are being exposed to passive smoking,” said Mr Vines.

“I congratulate Associate Professor Clough on receiving a funding grant from the Heart Foundation and look forward to seeing the outcomes of his research.”

Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA), Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS) and JCU ‘Smoke-free Spaces Project’

This major project was made possible by 10 years of successful NHMRC-funded studies conducted in Arnhem Land by Associate Professor Alan Clough and Dr Jan Robertson at JCU. ARDS is supported by a large Commonwealth Department of Health grant for ‘Tackling Indigenous Smoking Innovation’ programs.  The project is aimed at assisting households in Northern Territory Indigenous communities to create and extend smoke-free homes and areas.  The project is community-driven by ARDS and ALPA .

ALPA, ARDS, and JCU will initially collaborate with three communities to understand how residents see second-hand smoke exposure and associated health risks. Two ARDS community engagement teams, each with extensive bilingual skills and experience in ARDS’ Discovery Education Methodology, will then work with community leaders and households to develop effective explanations and support community-inspired ideas derived from cultural expectations and rules for the creation and expansion of smoke-free spaces.

ALPA has invested in the project.  ALPA’s operations across 27 top-end remote communities make it Australia’s largest Aboriginal Corporation. Alastair King, ALPA CEO, says: “Through our stores we have watched with concern how big jumps in cigarette prices have not driven the expected falls in demand for cigarettes. Instead consumers have cut their spending on groceries and other goods to buy smokes. There is a clear need to develop more effective anti-smoking interventions in remote communities.”

The (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy project

Another project to receive significant funding support, titled the ‘Indigenous Counselling and Nicotine (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy’ trial was recently awarded $2.2M from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) scheme.

One of the leaders of this project is Dr Gillian Gould (recently promoted to Associate Professor). Dr Gould is Associate Professor Clough’s PhD graduate, (now an NHMRC Early Career Fellow and Associate Professor based at University of Newcastle and supervised by Professor Billie Bonevski).

This project is based on Associate Professor Gould’s PhD research and more than ten years of her work co-developing smoking cessation strategies with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

Importantly, the (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy resources have been specifically developed to be a health promotion platform for Aboriginal communities as they draw on the knowledge and expertise of the community.

AITHM’s role in this project will be to host the project in northern Australia and manage the Queensland and NT sites with research assistants to be recruited locally in Cairns.

Associate Professor Clough will develop a NHMRC project grant application and a partnership project grant application to extend the successful results of these important initiatives.


Associate Professor Alan Clough