Smoking is causing half of all deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 45 and over, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).

Published on Monday, the study followed 1,388 people over 10 years and examined the risk of death for non-smokers, past and current smokers.

It found smoking causes 37 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult deaths at any age, increasing to 50 per cent in Indigenous adults over 45-years-old.

According to study lead, Dr Katie Thurber, it is the first time data specific to Indigenous adult smoking has been recorded.

“Our findings show that we have underestimated the impact of smoking. It causes nearly double the deaths than we previously thought,” she said.

“Even smoking between one to 14 cigarettes per day triples your risk of early death compared to never smoking. No amount of smoking is safe.”

Co-author of the study, Associate Professor Raymond Lovett said the study found Indigenous people who never smoke live an extra 10 years compared to smokers.

“This study shows smoking has taken the lives of more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the last 10 years,” said A/Professor Lovett.

Australia Day is a good opportunity to reflect on our colonial history, including how commercial tobacco was introduced to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how tobacco was used as a form of payment, which has caused nicotine dependence.”

Currently, the Federal Government is funding the Tackling Indigenous Smoking (TIS) program, led by Professor Tom Calma AO, who also co-authored the newly released study.

A 2018 evaluation of the TIS program said its overall goal is to improve Indigenous health “through local population specific efforts”. Much of these efforts rely upon place-based approaches and building relationships to support capacity-building and behaviour changes.

While the program is successfully achieving its short-term goals and is on track to achieve longer-term goals, the program does not address the entire Indigenous population.

“We need everyone to have access to appropriate programs and supports to reduce tobacco use. If smoking is a bigger problem than we thought, then funding should be increased to match the size of the problem,” Professor Calma said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said in addition to the TIS program, the Federal Government is developing a 10-year National Preventative Health Strategy that covers a range of issues including tobacco control.

“The Australian Government is concerned about the serious health risks of smoking and has continued the efforts of previous governments to support and build on Australia’s great success in tobacco control,” the spokesperson said.

“The [ANU] findings show that the smoking prevalence reductions achieved over the last 15 years will lead to a substantial number of premature deaths being avoided.”

The spokesperson said the National Preventative Health Strategy also will complement the National Tobacco Strategy, which is currently being updated.

By Hannah Cross