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This qualitative study examined smokefree leadership among the Yolŋu people, Indigenous landowners of East Arnhem Land. Despite disproportionately high smoking prevalence, the study found that most people enacted smokefree leadership within families and communities. While there was broad concern about not impinging on the autonomy of others, Indigenous health workers regularly advised clients, family and community members to quit smoking. This followed a general belief that the issue of smoking was best raised by health workers, rather than traditional leaders. Protecting children from second-hand smoke and preventing smoking initiation was important to all participants irrespective of their smoking status. An enduring and highly valued cultural connection to ŋarali' (tobacco) remains an essential part of the sacred practices of the funeral ceremony, an important and unique social utility. The study found consensus among participants that this would not change. Navigating traditional connections to ŋarali' in a context where most people are still addicted to commercial tobacco is challenging and requires respectful and culturally compelling approaches. Tobacco control initiatives with the Yolŋu should therefore utilise existing smokefree leaders within the social context in which ŋarali' is valued and used, an approach that may resonate with other Indigenous Australian nations and communities.


Moana Pera Tane, Marita Hefler, David P Thomas. Smokefree leadership among the Yolŋu peoples of East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory: a qualitative study. Global health promotion. 2020 Jun;27(2):100-108

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PMID: 31232171

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