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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
AD undertook data collection and analysis and drafted the manuscript. HS provided cultural mentoring during the study, assisted in analysis and refined the manuscript. AC participated in the design and coordination of the study, assisted in analysis and refined the manuscript. MC and MD conceived of the study, were responsible for its design and coordination, and refined the manuscript. MC also undertook data collection and secondary review of the analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Aboriginal Health Workers (AHWs) have a mandate to deliver smoking cessation support to Aboriginal people. However, a high proportion of AHWs are smokers and this undermines their delivery of smoking cessation programs. Smoking tobacco is the leading contributor to the burden of disease in Aboriginal Australians and must be prevented. Little is known about how to enable AHWs to quit smoking. An understanding of the factors that perpetuate smoking in AHWs is needed to inform the development of culturally relevant programs that enable AHWs to quit smoking. A reduction of smoking in AHWs is important to promote their health and also optimise the delivery of smoking cessation support to Aboriginal clients.
We conducted a fundamental qualitative description study that was nested within a larger mixed method participatory research project. The individual and contextual factors that directly or indirectly promote (i.e. perpetuate) smoking behaviours in AHWs were explored in 34 interviews and 3 focus groups. AHWs, other health service staff and tobacco control personnel shared their perspectives. Data analysis was performed using a qualitative content analysis approach with collective member checking by AHW representatives.
AHWs were highly stressed, burdened by their responsibilities, felt powerless and undervalued, and used smoking to cope with and support a sense of social connectedness in their lives. Factors directly and indirectly associated with smoking were reported at six levels of behavioural influence: personal factors (e.g. stress, nicotine addiction), family (e.g. breakdown of family dynamics, grief and loss), interpersonal processes (e.g. socialisation and connection, domestic disputes), the health service (e.g. job insecurity and financial insecurity, demanding work), the community (e.g. racism, social disadvantage) and policy (e.g. short term and insecure funding).
An extensive array of factors perpetuated smoking in AHWs. The multitude of personal, social and environmental stressors faced by AHWs and the accepted use of communal smoking to facilitate socialisation and connection were primary drivers of smoking in AHWs in addition to nicotine dependence. Culturally sensitive multidimensional smoking cessation programs that address these factors and can be tailored to local needs are indicated.