A CLEARER, grassroots approach is needed to prevent smokers in Ballarat's most disadvantaged communities from slipping through the cracks, leading health experts warn.
About one in five adults in Wendouree, Miners Rest, Sebastopol and Delacombe are smoking, new data shows, compared to about one in eight adults taking a puff in Ballarat Central.
The highest smoking rates in this city are almost five times higher than in Australia's wealthiest suburbs and clear above the national average, 12.2 per cent.
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Mitchell Institute's Rosemary Calder, who leads Australian Health Policy Collaboration, said there had been a slow national decrease in smoking rates the past five years and while the Grampians region as a whole was on trend, it was still significantly higher at 18.4 per cent.
Professor Calder said the latest Australia's Health Tracker report showed higher smoking rates in lower-socioeconomic areas and Ballarat was not immune to this.
Australia has not had a national mass media quit campaign for seven years. Professor Calder said past results and the widespread effective response to COVID-19 showed this still worked.
But she also called for communities to take the lead on their health.
"Communities need to design their own methods to meet community expectations. What might work in a rural community with a high smoking rate is going to be different to what works in an industrial community," Professor Calder said.
"Nationally we still need to engage communities...engagement is hard for you if, for example, you're a young person and is smoking is the norm."
What might work in a rural community with a high smoking rate is going to be different to what works in an industrial community.Professor Rosemary Calder
A Ballarat Community Health spokesperson said despite good reductions in smoking across the region, there were pockets in the community that needed extra support to quit.
BCH identifies indigenous, people with disabilities and people with mental illness had higher smoking rates in the community, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports.
The Mitchell Institute, which is part of Victoria University, found the smoking rate for people with a mental illness had risen 4.3 per cent in the past four years to 27.7 per cent. More than 27% of indigenous Australians smoke.
Professor Calder said now was a key chance to re-launch quit messages given people were acutely aware COVID-19 was a respiratory disease and evidence was emerging globally that smokers were at a far high risk of a dangerous response, should they contract the disease.
"Nationally, we have recognised the need for and supported massive investment in keeping people safe and healthy from COVID-19," Professor Calder said. "Reducing our smoking rates among disadvantaged groups and communities needs to be given priority in the national response to the COVID crisis."
Smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, which puts people at a higher risk of hospitalisation and death if they contract coronavirus.
One-third of Australian smokers have been lighting up more during lockdown, a new Heart Foundation study shows. About half the respondents cited isolation and boredom as key reasons for a puff.
The study also found about one-third of Australian smokers were lighting up less in lockdown, predominantly due to limited access to products and the chance to make healthier lifestyle changes.
BCH's health promotions manager Louise Feery said the concern was a change in lifestyle under lockdown would promote higher levels of smoking.
Often in a workplace smoking is restricted, or you can't smoke on site but at home is a different environment.Louise Feery, Ballarat Community Health
"It could be (stress or boredom) but it could be that people are working from home," Ms Feery said. "Often in a workplace smoking is restricted, or you can't smoke on site but at home is a different environment."
Evidence is not clear whether people who have previously smoked are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications that people who have never smoked as lungs can heal rapidly when someone stops smoking.
Ballarat Community Health continues to offer smoking cessation support via phone and tele-health. People wanting to quit are also urged to visit their general practitioner or pharmacist.
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