Aboriginal people have a greater understanding of the risks of smoking following the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco in Australia, new research shows.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were surveyed before and after the introduction of plain packaging for the study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
The study found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were less likely to incorrectly believe that "some cigarette brands are more harmful than others" following the introduction of plain packaging.
In addition, fewer younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (aged 18-29 years) believed that "some cigarette brands are more prestigious than others" following the change.
As a result of new laws introduced on 1 December 2012, all tobacco products sold in Australia must be in plain packaging which does not feature brand imagery, logos or promotional text. The drab, standardised packaging also includes large and graphic health warnings.
National Coordinator of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program, Professor Tom Calma, said the findings showed that plain packaging was achieving its aims in Indigenous populations.
"Too many of our people smoke and this is causing great harm in our communities,'' Professor Calma said.
"About 42 people cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are daily smokers - this is about three times the daily smoking rate for all Australian adults.
"Smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia.
"This study shows that plain packaging is working among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to reduce the incorrect belief that cigarette brands can vary in the harm they cause."
Study co-author Dr Sarah Durkin, of Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said the findings were consistent with research across the Australian population showing that plain packs were diminishing the tobacco industry's ability to use packs to mislead people about the harms of smoking.
"The findings show that preventing the use of misleading imagery on tobacco products is working in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations to reduce incorrect beliefs about smoking."
Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said the high rate of smoking among Aboriginal people meant they carried a heavier burden of preventable death and disease, compared to the rest of the population.
"Reducing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoke is essential to prevent illness including cancer, heart disease and strokes," Dr White said.
"Plain packaging is part of a comprehensive government strategy to reduce smoking in Australia and stop young people from picking up the habit."
Professor Calma said the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program was using innovative, culturally appropriate approaches to reduce smoking in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
"With strong leadership and a comprehensive health workforce effort in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we can halve the Indigenous smoking rate over the next decade and give our people the opportunity to live long and healthy lives,'' he said.