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Wholesale data for surveillance of Australian Aboriginal tobacco consumption in the Northern Territory
  1. David P Thomas1,2,
  2. Joseph W Fitz1,
  3. Vanessa Johnston1,
  4. Joanne Townsend3,
  5. Warwick Kneebone3
  1. 1Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia
  2. 2Lowitja Institute, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia
  3. 3Northern Territory Department of Health and Families, Darwin, Australia
  1. Correspondence to David P Thomas, Menzies School of Health Research, PO Box 41096, Casuarina NT 0811, Darwin, Australia; david.thomas{at}


Objectives Effective monitoring of trends in tobacco use is an essential element of tobacco control policy. Monitoring tobacco consumption using tobacco wholesale data has advantages over other methods of surveillance. In the present work, a research project that monitored tobacco consumption in 25 remote Aboriginal communities and its translation to a policy to implement this monitoring routinely in the entire Northern Territory of Australia is described.

Methods Tobacco consumption and trends were estimated using wholesale (or occasionally sales) data from all retail outlets in 25 remote Aboriginal communities. Self-reported consumption was estimated from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey in 2008. Local consumption results were fed back in posters to local organisations and health staff.

Results Estimates of consumption from wholesale data and self-report were similar (6.8 and 6.7 cigarettes/day/person aged 15 and over). Consumption was higher in the tropical Top End than in arid Central Australia, and 24% of tobacco was consumed as loose tobacco. The overall trend in monthly consumption was not significantly different from 0. Local communities could be ranked by their local trends in monthly consumption.

Conclusions Monitoring tobacco consumption using wholesale tobacco data is a practical and unobtrusive surveillance method that is being introduced as a new condition of tobacco retail licenses in the Northern Territory of Australia. It overcomes some problems with consumption estimates from routine surveys, enables rapid feedback and use of results and is particularly well suited for hard-to-reach discrete populations, such as remote Aboriginal communities in Australia. It has already been used to evaluate the impact of local tobacco control activities.

  • Aboriginal
  • indigenous
  • smoking
  • surveillance
  • public policy
  • surveillance and monitoring

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  • Funding This work was funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, National Health and Medical Research Council, and National Heart Foundation.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Human Research Ethics Committee of NT Department of Health & Families, Menzies School of Health Research and the Central Australian Human Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.