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Slow decline in indigenous smoking

New education campaigns targeted to specific communities to reduce tobacco smoking are being developed.

Fewer indigenous people are smoking today compared to eight years ago but Aborigines are still lighting up at almost three times the rate of other Australians.

But on the flip side, indigenous people abstain from alcohol in far greater numbers than their non-indigenous counterparts, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says.

A new report, released today, reveals that 50 per cent of indigenous people smoked in 2008, compared to 53 per cent in 2002.

That's the first statistically significant decline in smoking for indigenous Australians.

But the current rate is still almost three times the 17 per cent rate for non-indigenous Australians recorded in 2007.

The institute's report, Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, also reveals more than half of indigenous mothers continue to smoke during pregnancy.

Smoking is the number one cause of chronic conditions and diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease among indigenous Australians.

Late last year, Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon admitted mainstream anti-smoking campaigns over the past 50 years had missed the mark when it came to indigenous Australians.

"What we haven't done is communicate in a way where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are accepting of the message," Snowdon said in December.

Some communities have poor literacy while others don't watch television, he said. So new education campaigns are being targeted to specific communities.

On the drinking front, the institute's report found that in 2008 some 29 per cent of indigenous people didn't drink in the previous 12 months - almost double the 15 per cent abstinence rate for non-indigenous Australians.

"However, the rate of binge drinking is a concern," report co-author Helen Johnstone said in a statement.

"In 2008, indigenous Australians were more than twice as likely as non-indigenous Australians to binge drink - 17 per cent and eight per cent respectively."

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