History

Torres Strait and Aboriginal Islanders suffer disproportionately when compared to the general Australian public from smoking related health issues.

The high prevalence of tobacco smoking can to some level be attributed to the process of colonisation as well as the consequent low socioeconomic status of the indigenous people.

Historically, aboriginal people chewed on the dry leaves of pituri and other native tobacco products like Nicotania gossei before the arrival of non-aboriginal people. Today some aboriginal people still continue using native tobaccos and pituri.

Macassan trepangers and fishermen introduced tobacco to northern Australians some 400 years ago. Many people in northern Australia still continue to use Macassan tobacco and pipes to smoke during traditional ceremonies.

Modern tobacco was then introduced to Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people soon after colonisation, and it was used for bargaining during trades. In the decades that ensued and as the native people become displaced into church, private or government missions, tobacco became an important part of rations that were provided in exchange for work, and as a reward for co-operation.

Smoking has since become ‘normalised’ in many Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities. Although smoking is not exactly a cultural practice, it has become an daily part in the lives of indigenous people given that almost half the adults currently smoke. In addition, Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people have a tradition of sharing resources like cigarettes which reinforces smoking.

In comparison to other indigenous people across the globe, mostly those who’ve been colonised like Native Americans, Native Canadians, New Zealand Maori, the prevalence of tobacco use and smoking is higher for these people than for non-indigenous people in their countries.

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