The report published today by the National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) should remind the nation and its governments of the critical and urgent need for effective approaches to reduce rates of smoking in rural and remote areas.
All seven Medicare Local areas with the highest rates of adults who smoke on a daily basis are country regions. Whereas the national average in 2011-12 was 16 per cent, the rate in those seven rural and regional areas varies from 23 to 28 per cent.
Some of the programs currently in operation, particularly those targeted at reducing rates of smoking and its uptake among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, have shown early signs of success. It is imperative that these programs remain in operation with guaranteed support and the successful models extended to additional areas and population groups.
The National Rural Health Alliance is also calling for urgent research and follow-up action to put in place health promotion activities which work well in rural and remote areas. Clearly as a nation we are doing many things right where anti-smoking is concerned but country people are again missing out.
It will hopefully be the case that when there is a better understanding of how anti-smoking work can be more effective in rural and remote areas, the lessons learned can be applied to other key risk factors for chronic disease such as obesity and misuse of alcohol.
Metropolitan-rural differences are also reflected in the overweight and obesity findings and it is to be hoped that further work led by the NHPA, ANPHA and other agencies will be able to identify the interrelationship between rurality, socio-economic status and health risk factors like smoking and obesity.
The National Health Performance Authority is to be commended for making available such important information in accessible formats. It will be particularly valuable as time-series evidence over the coming years.
End note: the Oceania Tobacco Control Conference is currently being held in Auckland. New Zealand has adopted a policy to be smoke free by 2025.