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The Northern Territory has many things to be proud of. Having the highest smoking rate in Australia is not one of them.

The latest National Health Survey (2017-18)1 reports that 19.6% of adults in the top end smoke daily. That’s 1 in every 5 Territorians aged 18 and over and significantly higher than the national smoking rate of 13.8% (1 in 7 people).

Although the overall smoking rate in the Northern Territory has almost halved since 1995, when more than a third (35.6%) of all adults in the Territory smoked, it has barely dropped in the last five years from the 20.9% rate of 2014-15.

Smoking rates across the NT

Smoking rates are even higher in some urban areas within the Territory.

Northern Territory smoking rate


The latest Social Health Atlas of Australia2 by the Public Health Information Development Unit at Torrens University in South Australia revealed that the town of Katherine has a smoking rate of 27.8%, while the suburbs of Driver, Gray, Moulden and Woodroffe have a reported smoking rate of more than 27%.

As is well known, smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable disease in Australia, and the best thing smokers can do for their health is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether.

Options for those who don’t quit

But for those Territorians who don’t quit, the options are limited.

It’s clear that current tobacco control policies in the Territory are just not working. It’s time for authorities in the Northern Territory to recognise that many adult smokers in the Territory will continue to smoke cigarettes – one of the most harmful ways to consume nicotine – and to therefore apply a range of harm reduction strategies to bring smoking rates down and reduce the risk of harm caused by cigarettes.

A growing number of experts and health authorities now acknowledge that scientifically substantiated smoke-free products are a better alternative for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes. It’s time for authorities to consider the positive contribution to public health that such alternatives could deliver, when combined with the right regulatory oversight to prevent initiation and encourage cessation.

If smoking rates in the Northern Territory are to change, regulators need to change existing laws and regulations to encourage those adult smokers that would otherwise continue to smoke to switch to better alternatives.