Very brief advice

Very brief advice (VBA) is an evidence-based approach to increasing quit attempts. The purpose of VBA is to engage with people who smoke and get them to think about quitting. The aim is not to tell people how they should behave (quit smoking), but to guide them to the quit support that is available. VBA focuses on offering help by providing:

  • information about where to go for help to quit
  • encouragement and support for change
  • a referral to quit support.

VBA is an opportunistic, non-intrusive and respectful approach which can be used by anyone, in any setting, including community settings. VBA is not smoking cessation therapy and does not require formal counselling skills or knowledge of the stages of behaviour change because:

  • assessing clinical factors such as how much the person smokes or their level of addiction is not important because there is no safe level of smoking
  • evaluating stage of behaviour change is not important because most people who smoke know it is bad for them, want to stop, and have probably tried to quit already.

In simple terms VBA is a short conversation lasting from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes during which you:

  • Ask the person if they smoke
  • Advise them about the best way to quit (behavioural support (e.g. Quitline) combined with stop smoking medication like NRT)
  • Act by directing them to locally available support (provide information or referral).

Because of the opportunistic non-clinical nature of VBA, anyone who has contact with people who smoke from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should be able to provide this including:

  • staff from health organisations, who are the first point of contact for clients (e.g., receptionists and drivers)
  • staff from non-health organisations that have regular contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients
  • smoke-free ambassadors or other volunteers who work on community events/outreach activities.

According to a review of the evidence, brief simple advice about quitting smoking increases the likelihood that someone who smokes will successfully quit and remain smoke-free 12 months later.

VBA is a modification of the 5As (Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist, Arrange) approach to brief intervention which is often recommended for use in a clinical setting. You can read more about this clinical approach on the fact sheet: Key facts about behavioural support for smoking cessation.

Social media and social networking

Social media and social networking tools such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter are increasingly being used to help tackle smoking, particularly with young adults. One of the advantages of these platforms is that they are accessible, low cost and familiar to young people. About 20.5 million Australians are active users of social media – around 80% of the total population. Research by the McNair Ingenuity Research Institute in 2014 found that Facebook is a popular means of communication among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The use of Facebook and Twitter as a way of communicating is a popular approach for many healthcare services. However the value of these tools seems to lie more in their networking functions. Social media is interactive and user-driven, meaning it has the potential to provide real-time peer to peer support and discussion around tobacco use.

There is currently a lack of evidence of the effectiveness of using social media in tobacco control. Studies that do exist tend to be descriptive, with a focus on the acceptability of the medium to support quitting, or an analysis of posts. A study on using Facebook to reduce smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people found that there was potential for health services to incorporate a strategy of using paid local social media ‘champions’ or ‘ambassadors’ to disseminate tobacco control messages on Facebook through community networks. It also found that:

  • posts were more likely to be shared if they:
    • were child-focused
    • featured Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content
    • were perceived as practical, relevant and credible, with a direct and unambiguous message.
  • posts were less likely to be shared if they:
    • included disgusting imagery about health impacts
    • were focused on the environment
    • were ambiguous or sarcastic.

The NBPU TIS have produced a Key facts about social media factsheet and infographic that provide key information for TIS workers about using social media to communicate messages about smoking.

Social media factsheet

Social media infographic


Claudine Thornton’s social media training

A bespoke online social media training course has been developed for the TIS workforce by Claudine Thornton Creative. You will learn about marketing terminology and consumer behaviour tactics. Understanding how marketers use emotion over logic in promoting cigarettes, means you can use the same tactics to persuade people to be smoke-free. The course focuses on how to use emotional availability to reverse engineer tobacco marketing. The course lasts around one and a half hours and comprises seven modules each split into 5-10 minute segments.So you can complete it in one go, or in short pieces. The course is free to access, simply open this link and then click the ‘Enroll for free’ button.

Menzies School of Health Research has produced a tips and tricks resource for people working in health promotion and tobacco control, Social media in health promotion and tobacco control: tips and tricks. An accompanying PowerPoint presentation, Can Facebook help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to quit smoking? is also available.

Monitoring and reporting social media activities presentation

Monitoring and reporting on social media activities

This presentation from A/Prof Penney Upton discusses the monitoring and reporting of social media activities, including:

  • reach
  • engagement
  • impact.

Please note: The presentation will start playing automatically when opened.

Mass media and social marketing

Mass media and social marketing campaigns aim to reduce the number of people who smoke by changing attitudes, beliefs and intentions surrounding tobacco use. Mass media campaigns take a traditional marketing approach to this aim, treating the desire to be smoke-free as a product to be sold. In contrast, social marketing uses knowledge of specific community barriers to develop more targeted marketing approaches.

Both approaches use education about the negative consequences of smoking and the benefits of not smoking for two purposes:

  • to prevent the uptake of smoking (particularly in young people)
  • to promote quit attempts in people who currently smoke.

It is thought these campaigns help to prevent smoking by changing people’s expectations toward smoking, so that tobacco use is no longer accepted as the ‘usual, cool or necessary thing to do.’

A 2021 publication from the Mayi Kuwayu study showed that education provided by the TIS program has changed awareness and understanding of the impact of smoking on long term health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. We know that negative attitudes towards smoking are an important precursor to smoking behaviour change. Anti-smoking attitudes are more likely to lead to quit attempts, and to successful long term smoke free living.

There is evidence that both mass media and social marketing campaigns can help prevent smoking from starting, encourage people to stop smoking, and prevent relapse among recent quitters by reminding them about why they chose to stop smoking. However one of the biggest effects is in relation to promoting access to cessation support services such as Quitline, counselling and other health professionals. Developing capacity to support people who are ready to quit – by taking the systems approach described under Planning, is therefore essential if programs are to be sustainable.

A campaign’s impact is influenced by:

  • repetition – the more often the messages are heard, the more likely they are to sink in
  • reach – how far the messages are spread, how large the audience is
  • intensity – how regularly the messages are heard
  • how long the campaign is – it needs to be long enough for all target audiences to have heard the message but not so long that they get sick of it and tune out.

Don’t Make Smokes Your Story campaign ad

The relevance of the message has been found to be important for audience engagement. The context, characters and role models used in advertising or community activities must seem believable, if people who smoke are to connect to them. When a campaign does not relate to how people see themselves, they find it hard to become interested in the content. While there is some evidence that mass media campaigns do influence attitudes and beliefs of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in regard to smoking, more specific local messages tailored for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seem to be most effective. Evidence from the Talking About The Smokes project also supports the importance of using targeted advertising.

The Australian Government’s Don’t Make Smokes Your Story campaign is a good example of how advertising and community-based activities can work together to encourage behaviour change among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoke. You can adapt and use these materials and resources for your own activities.


Reducing second-hand and third-hand smoke

Reducing second-hand and third-hand smoke is an important aim. This is because second-hand and third-hand smoke can be very harmful. The evidence also shows that if smoking is seen as ‘normal’ at a community level, young people are more likely to start smoking, and people who currently smoke will find it harder to quit. Increasing the extent to which a community is smoke-free is associated with less smoking and more success in quitting. A 2021 publication from the Mayi Kuwayu study showed that areas of Australia where the TIS program is present, compared to non-TIS areas, have a significantly lower prevalence of smoking inside households.

Relevant activities include the following:

Developing smoke-free policies in the workplace

To be successful, smoke-free policies need community participation – not just consultation – in their development. Policies that have local ownership and commitment are more likely to be followed. There is also evidence that introducing smoke-free policies in the workplace can lead to increased support for smoke-free spaces in other areas such as smoke-free homes and cars. Successful smoke-free workplace policies also result in more workers wanting to quit.

‘Keep our place a smoke-free space’ is a resource package developed to support the implementation of smoke-free workplace policies. ‘Keep our place a smoke-free space’ was a collaboration between NBPU TIS, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) and TIS teams from WA, Qld, SA and NT. You can view the poster presentation about the project that was presented at the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2023 here.

Resources include:

Smoke-free workplace wallchart

Workshop resources

An information leaflet promoting the initiative to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations is available here. TIS teams can download this leaflet and personalise with their contact details before sharing with local businesses.

Combining locally owned smoke-free policies with access to quit support services increases the success of these policies. Working in an environment with a smoke free policy can also encourage individuals to quit.


Supporting smoke-free homes and cars

Second-hand and third-hand smoke is a health risk factor, particularly for children. Children are at greater risk for a number of reasons, including their size, faster breathing rates and less developed respiratory and immune systems. Second-hand smoke is associated with a number of childhood illnesses including:

  • asthma
  • croup
  • bronchitis
  • bronchiolitis
  • pneumonia
  • ear, nose and throat infections.

Second-hand smoke is also believed to contribute to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Less well known, but probably just as harmful is third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is the tobacco smoke toxins from second-hand smoke that get into people who smoke’s hair and clothes and build up on surfaces and dust in areas where people smoke. Evidence shows that these toxins stay in homes and cars for a long time after the cigarette has been extinguished, even several months later. They may even become more toxic over time.

Bullinah Aboriginal Health Service’s Solid Mob ‘Our home is a smoke free zone’ campaign

Third-hand smoke is an emerging area of research and we don’t yet understand all the health hazards. However, children (especially infants), are more vulnerable to third-hand smoke toxins. This is because infants crawl over contaminated floors and mouth contaminated surfaces like furniture and toys. We also know that infants consume up to a quarter of a gram of dust every day. That’s twice as much as adults.

There is good evidence that having a smoke-free home and car improves children’s health. There is also some evidence that keeping the home smoke-free helps to prevent uptake of smoking by young people. There are therefore many good reasons to support people to have smoke-free homes and cars.

2018 review found that intensive counselling methods or motivational interviewing with parents to be most effective for reducing children’s tobacco smoke exposure in the home. There is some indication that school-based education, intensive home visits, brief education provided to parents in clinics (including scheduled children’s health checks) and culturally sensitive health promotion brochures may also help reduce second-hand smoke in the home and car.

Menzies School of Health Research has developed Healthy starts: reducing the health effects of smoking around Indigenous babies and childrena resource to support health providers when discussing second-hand tobacco smoke with families, and to encourage families to have smoke-free homes.

Running smoke-free events

Griffith AMS hosting a smoke-free community event

Any opportunity to reduce second-hand smoke is a good investment because there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, and smoke-free events both denormalise smoking and encourage people to think about quitting. The Talking About The Smokes (TATS) study found that support for smoke-free festivals and events is strong in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly among those who don’t smoke:

  • for people who have never smoked, support was 71%
  • for ex-smokers 65%
  • for people who do not smoke daily 70%
  • half of all people who smoke daily were in favour of smoke-free events (51%).

Smoke-free pledges

Pledging to be smoke-free demonstrates an active commitment and motivation to change. Evidence shows that when someone makes a public declaration (pledge) they are more likely to follow through with that promise, both for themselves, but also because of what others might think of them if they don’t maintain their promise. We also know that people are more likely to stick with a commitment that has real value, purpose and meaning to them.

Smoke-free pledges are a good population health promotion tool because:

  • group pledges (e.g. family, organisation or community) seem to be more effective than individual ones – this is probably because of the social support that a group pledge provides
  • pledges can be linked to any environment – e.g. smoke-free workplaces, smoke-free homes
  • pledges can be used as a part of different activities – e.g. at community events and workplace education sessions
  • as well as supporting behaviour change, pledges can be used to monitor an activity’s reach and impact.

The Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service Quit B Fit Team encouraging people to take a pledge to not smoke in their homes, cars and workplaces

You can find further information on smoke-free environments in the video and factsheet produced by NBPU TIS which can be downloaded here.

Activities Guidance

Once you have decided what you want to accomplish through your program, you will need to choose activities that will help you to achieve these aims. It is important that Tackling Indigenous Smoking (TIS) activities are effective for achieving the proposed outcomes of the TIS program (e.g. increasing awareness of the benefits of not smoking, more smoke-free environments, increased quit attempts, reduced uptake of smoking). The best way of ensuring that an activity is effective is to use ones which have been tried and tested, so we have evidence that they work. It is also important that you choose the right activities for your local population needs and your local community context. Your role is to use your understanding of the communities in your region, your professional experience and expertise, along with your knowledge of the evidence to put together a suitable set of activities.

Population health promotion

The TIS program uses population health promotion activities to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. TIS is a tobacco control program, not a smoking cessation program. It aims to reduce smoking prevalence by preventing the uptake of smoking, as well as encouraging people who smoke to quit. Regional Tobacco Control Grant (RTCG) teams are funded to provide community outreach, rather than clinical individual level action to improve the health and wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Click on the image on the left to read about the principles of population health promotion that should underpin all of your TIS activities.


What do we mean by evidence?

Evidence is the information or knowledge about ‘what works’ which can help you decide which activities you will use. Evidence comes from many different sources including published research, and many professionals value this kind of evidence the most. However published research about TIS activities is not always available. Local evidence that an activity works also has an important role to play in the development of TIS activities.

Figure 1: Using the evidence to develop locally relevant services

This is one reason why the careful monitoring and evaluation of local activities is an essential part of the TIS program. Collecting accurate and thorough local data will help you to see what works best and this information can then be used to improve your activities. You can also share this with other TIS-funded organisations and contribute to the evidence on what works for TIS.

Sometimes collecting data can be challenging – the number of participants in a program may be small, or it may be that it can take a long time to see changes in smoking behaviour in the wider community. The NBPU TIS can support teams to address these and other challenges in order to develop the evidence base for TIS.

It is important to remember that the evidence does not provide a set of fixed solutions (it is not a ‘recipe book’). It is one element in an ongoing process. Your decision making will draw on your professional expertise about TIS and the local community with the evolving local and research evidence to develop a locally relevant service (Figure 1).


What is the current best evidence to support the reduction of tobacco use?

Evidence from a large-scale cohort study recently showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults living in TIS-funded areas were more likely to be smoke free at home, to smoke less tobacco and show lower rates of nicotine dependency compared to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who lived in non-TIS areas.

Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce tobacco-related harm. Individuals may make several quit attempts before successfully stopping smoking for good. This is why health promotion activities and community development to support quitting are so important; it’s about continually reminding people of the importance of quitting and informing them about where to get help. It is important that as well as providing education about tobacco harms, organisations providing health promotion activities are able to refer people who want to quit to smoking cessation support services. Being part of a wider health service system or network is therefore essential for TIS teams.

Eligible and ineligible TIS activities

The table below outlines the eligible and ineligible grant activities for TIS teams as described in the Tackling Indigenous Smoking Regional Tobacco Control Grants (2023-24 to 2026-27) Grant Opportunity Guidelines (GO6775). You can read the previous version of the guidelines here: Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme Tackling Indigenous Smoking Regional Tobacco Control Grants (2023-24 to 2025-26) Grant Opportunity Guidelines (GO5803). For examples of these activities and how to monitor and evaluate them please download this factsheet.

Individual level activities for smoking cessation

TIS teams are funded to carry out population health promotion activities. They are not funded to provide smoking cessation support. TIS workers still need up-to-date knowledge of the support available to individuals wanting to quit, as this can inform TIS population health promotion campaigns and educational activities. The factsheets below provide an overview of how different individual level activities that can help support smoking cessation.