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Petrol sniffing on the decline in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Date posted: 15 August 2016

According to a study conducted by Menzies School of Health Research, petrol sniffing rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have declined since the introduction of low aromatic unleaded fuel (LAF). The results of this study were released today by the Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

The independent study, Monitoring trends in the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Australian Aboriginal communities 2011-2014, was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government. The research team was led by Professor Peter d'Abbs (Menzies) and Gillian Shaw (Bowchung Consulting).

Since 2011, the number of people sniffing petrol has fallen by almost 30 percent in the 41 communities examined in the study. Over the long term, the decline in petrol sniffing has been even more significant, with 17 communities from the study showing sniffing incidence rates have fallen by 88 percent, when comparing data from 2005-06.

'The introduction of low aromatic fuel in remote communities has been associated with a continuing decline of the number of young people sniffing petrol,' Professor d'Abbs explained. 'In addition to an overall decrease in the prevalence of sniffing, people who do sniff tend to do so less frequently, which suggests that less harm is being caused by petrol sniffing in Australia's remote and rural Indigenous communities than previously.'

As well as monitoring trends of petrol sniffing, researchers conducted interviews with community members to understand how they felt about the introduction of LAF. In most communities the introduction of LAF was widely supported, although in some places this was qualified by frustration regarding the continuing availability of regular unleaded petrol from other outlets.

The interviews also confirmed that many communities face ongoing problems with alcohol and cannabis use. 'While petrol sniffing is often part of a pattern of opportunistic poly drug use, the rise in cannabis use predates the introduction of LAF into communities, and cannot be attributed to LAF,' Prof d’Abbs said.

The study found that in many communities there have been improvements in resourcing youth, recreation and training opportunities, however, many communities still face continuing challenges.

Overall, the findings from the study show that improvements to community programs and services, combined with the effectiveness of LAF in preventing petrol sniffing, have helped to improve health and wellbeing and create much-needed opportunities for young people.

Source: Menzies School of Health Research


Last updated: 15 August 2016
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute