Tobacco use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students: Understanding 'the social' and the effects of indigeneity

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2015, (2), pp. 46 - 57
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Australian tobacco use and its social acceptance have declined significantly (AIHW 2014). The rates of smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, however, disclose only a very small decrease, and mortality and morbidity rates attributed to tobacco use continue to be higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than they are for other Australians. The lack of any significant reduction in smoking among Indigenous Australians is especially marked among young people, who are reported to smoke daily at more than double the rate of their non-Indigenous counterparts (AIHW 2014). This paper analyses prevailing approaches to 'the social' in causing smoking among Indigenous Australians and argues that such approaches provide a limited foundation for understanding tobacco use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in general, and among students of high school age in particular. The paper proposes a critical sociological approach that represents and understands tobacco use as an embodied, collective social practice that persists or ceases according to the opportunities arising in the lives of those engaged in the practice. Such opportunities, we propose, are not random but, rather, socially structured. In other words, they arise from the 'sediments of past collective practice' (Schofield 2015:31) and are identifiable as patterns over time. In the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including those of high-school age, we propose that the dominant social structure or dynamic is that of indigeneity (Schofield and Gilroy 2015). We argue that smoking cessation programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students need to have a coherent conceptual foundation that includes the adoption of Indigenous research to inform policy development and implementation
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