Can smoking prevention interventions targeted at Indigenous youth prevent Indigenous youth from starting to smoke or use other tobacco products?

In Indigenous populations, the number of people who smoke has not fallen as it has in the wider communities around them. Young people remain at particular risk of taking up smoking. The associated harms to health are unacceptable. This review found that there is not enough published research evaluating programmes aiming to prevent Indigenous youth from starting to use tobacco. Information from the two included studies in this review (1505 participants in total, in Native American communities) does not allow a conclusion to be drawn as to whether tobacco prevention programmes in Indigenous populations prevent Indigenous youth from smoking or using smokeless tobacco. The review highlights the absence of data and need for more research.

Authors' conclusions: 

Based on the available evidence, a conclusion cannot be drawn as to the efficacy of tobacco prevention initiatives tailored for Indigenous youth. This review highlights the paucity of data and the need for more research in this area. Smoking prevalence in Indigenous youth is twice that of the non-Indigenous population, with tobacco experimentation commencing at an early age. As such, a significant health disparity exists where Indigenous populations, a minority, are over-represented in the burden of smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Methodologically rigorous trials are needed to investigate interventions aimed at preventing the uptake of tobacco use amongst Indigenous youth and to assist in bridging the gap between tobacco-related health disparities in Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

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Tobacco use in Indigenous populations (people who have inhabited a country for thousands of years) is often double that in the non-Indigenous population. Addiction to nicotine usually begins during early adolescence and young people who reach the age of 18 as non-smokers are unlikely to become smokers thereafter. Indigenous youth in particular commence smoking at an early age, and a disproportionate burden of substance-related morbidity and mortality exists as a result.


To evaluate the effectiveness of intervention programmes to prevent tobacco use initiation or progression to regular smoking amongst young Indigenous populations and to summarise these approaches for future prevention programmes and research.

Search strategy: 

The Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialised Register was searched in November 2011, with additional searches run in MEDLINE. Online clinical trial databases and publication references were also searched for potential studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomized and non-randomized controlled trials aiming to prevent tobacco use initiation or progression from experimentation to regular tobacco use in Indigenous youth. Interventions could include school-based initiatives, mass media, multi-component community level interventions, family-based programmes or public policy.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data pertaining to methodology, participants, interventions and outcomes were extracted by one reviewer and checked by a second, whilst information on risk of bias was extracted independently by a combination of two reviewers. Studies were assessed by qualitative narrative synthesis, as insufficient data were available to conduct a meta-analysis. The review process was examined by an Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australian for applicability, acceptability and content.

Main results: 

Two studies met all of the eligibility criteria for inclusion within the review and a third was identified as ongoing. The two included studies employed multi-component community-based interventions tailored to the specific cultural aspects of the population and were based in Native American populations (1505 subjects in total). No difference was observed in weekly smoking at 42 months follow-up in the one study assessing this outcome (skills-community group versus control: risk ratio [RR] 0.95, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.14; skills-only group versus control: RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.05). For smokeless tobacco use, no difference was found between the skills-community arm and the control group at 42 weeks (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.67 to 1.30), though a significant difference was observed between the skills-only arm and the control group (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.39 to 0.85). Whilst the second study found positive changes for tobacco use in the intervention arm at post test (p < 0.05), this was not maintained at six month follow-up (change score -0.11 for intervention and 0.07 for control). Both studies were rated as high or unclear risk of bias in seven or more domains (out of a total of 10).