Despite advertisers glorifying Australian cigarettes overseas with kangaroo logos, over the last few decades, people have realised that just because you’ve got a VB in one hand and a ‘billy on the boil’ in the other, Winnie Blues are just as carcinogenic as any other lung-buster.
Consequently, smoking rates have dramatically declined since the 1980s, to the point where European expats are shocked to find smoking is banned from practically every public space in Australia.
Which is why the latest figures from the health policy think tank Mitchell Institute — which show Mount Druitt, an outer Sydney town, is stuck with smoking rates not nationally seen since the 1980s — are so surprising.
They found that, along with Tamworth (where 30.3% of people smoke regularly), 31.3% of Mount Druitt residents enjoy a daily durrie.
Compared to the national average of 14%, which neither town is expected to reach for the next 31 years, this is quite the problem. According to the think tank, this means around one in seven people in these regions will die of an illness caused by smoking.
“Our success is lauded internationally, and we have some of the lowest smoking rates in the world… However, our national success story hides some troubling local data.”
Compare this again to Inner Sydney, which has some of the lowest smoking rates in the country, and well off areas like Mosman, Lane Cove and Ku-ring-gai, whose populations smoke at half the national average rate, and a stark difference becomes apparent.
Health Policy Lead at the Mitchell Institute Ben Harris said this came down to local factors: “We know where we live, where we work and who we know influences smoking. We also know that the best way to stop children picking up the habit is to support the adults around them to quit smoking.”
“It’s important that Quit campaigns and health professionals target their messaging to specific communities where smoking rates remain stubbornly high.”
However, reducing smoking is easier said than done. After all: one doesn’t smoke to be healthy. And as inner-city celiacs wax lyrical about the evils of bread and the paleo cults of the Northern Beaches conveniently forget that cavemen didn’t drink Matcha, one starts to see why this is a cultural problem as much as a health one.
As The Economist points out in their review of Gregor Hens’ book Nicotine, “Every smoker knows but few admit, nicotine is easy enough to kick.” They came to this conclusion after reading Hens’ description of smoking as more of a mental crutch than a physical one.
“Every cigarette that I’ve ever smoked served a purpose—they were a signal, medication, a stimulant or a sedative, they were a plaything, an accessory, a fetish object, something to help pass the time, a memory aid, a communication tool or an object of meditation. Sometimes…all at once,” (Hens).
“While the physiological addiction can be overcome with patches, with hypnosis, with self-help books, (and) with good old-fashioned will power… The truth is that every ex-smoker is and always will be a smoker,” (The Economist).
The reason people continue to smoke, then, is because, “Cigarettes represent youth, rebellion, wilful disregard for sensible advice… (And) to stop smoking isn’t just to give up the intake of that toxic… air into your lungs. It is to cease being yourself,” (The Economist).
As Christopher Hitchens, one of the most prolific smokers (and writers) of our time once said, having been diagnosed with oesophagal cancer; “To anyone watching, if you can hold it down on the smokes and the cocktails you may be well advised to do so.”
However, he fiercely defended an individual’s right to “choose (their own) future regrets.”