THE most recent anti-smoking campaign may liken its effects to being buried alive, but Ballarat has stopped listening to the quit message.
That’s the verdict of local health authorities on new figures that reveal the area as the smoking capital of Australia.
For the first time, statistics released by the National Health Performance Authority compare smoking rates in local areas across Australia.
The statistics don’t make good reading for the Grampians region, which has an adult daily smoking rate of 28 per cent – far above the national rate of 16 per cent.
As well as Ballarat, the Grampians Medicare Local area takes in Ballan, Maryborough and Horsham.
Medicare Local Grampians chief executive officer Andrew McPherson said it was difficult to say why the message of the dangers of smoking were not cutting through.
He said areas with a low socio-economic status tended to smoke at higher rates than communities that were “better off and better educated”.
“That certainly applies in the Grampians,” Mr McPherson said.
“As a community we need to work better together to reduce smoking rates.”
While it was unknown until now that the region had such heavy smokers, Mr McPherson said there were some signs the region was struggling to kick the habit.
He said the Grampians had the highest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the country.
“We weren’t sure what all the factors were that were causing that but clearly a high smoking rate contributes,” he said.
Ballarat Health Services head of medical oncology Dr Kate Hamilton agreed pockets of socio-economic disadvantage played a part, as did an ageing population.
She said the anti-smoking campaigns run by the government were not having a strong-enough effect in the region.
“Clearly with rates of 28 per cent the government needs to look at its campaigns,” Dr Hamilton said.
“We need to look at where smoking is still allowed and where we can reduce the number of public smoking places.”
Paul Cooper has been a smoker for 22 years. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER
Ballarat resident Paul Cooper, 38, has been smoking since he was 16.
“Yeah, I started about 22 years ago, because it was cool.”
Although he had considered quitting he has never set a date or an age to actually give up.
“It’s one of those things you think about but once it’s swept under the rug it stays under the rug” he said.
"My grandfather has fought in wars and everything to fight for us, and then here I am pissing it away on these things"
Mr Cooper, who works in customer service, said he was the only person in his family who smoked.
“My family is about as straitlaced as they come. They don’t even drink.
“It’s funny, you know, my grandfather has fought in wars and everything to fight for us, and then here I am pissing it away on these things,” he said.
Paula Hewitt, 41, also started smoking at the age of 16.
Ms Hewitt said that over 25 years of smoking cigarettes she tried to quit “all the time”.
“My partner and I both smoke and we’re always making deals with each other about when we’re going to quit,” she said.
Although Ms Hewitt is still smoking she said she anticipated giving up the habit soon.