Notes on the data: Aboriginal mothers and babies

Aboriginal women who reported smoking during pregnancy, 2012 to 2014


Policy context:  Tobacco smoking during pregnancy is the most common preventable risk factor for pregnancy complications [1]. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with poorer perinatal outcomes including low birthweight, being small for gestational age, pre-term birth and perinatal death [3]. Indigenous Australians are more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be current daily smokers (after adjusting for differences in age structure between populations) [2].

Over half of Indigenous mothers reported smoking during pregnancy (50.9%), compared with 14.4% of pregnant non-Indigenous women [2]. Smoking rates for Indigenous mothers varied by region and age, with highest rates for those living in Outer Regional (56.0%) areas and lowest for those living in Major Cities (49.3%) [1]. Smoking rates were highest among younger Indigenous mothers, with 53.6% of those aged under 20 years smoking during pregnancy [2]. Proportions of women smoking during pregnancy gradually decline with increasing age [2].

In New South Wales, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers smoked during pregnancy at around four times the rate of non-Indigenous mothers. In Western Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, Indigenous mothers smoked at three times the rate of non-Indigenous mothers. Indigenous mothers in the Northern Territory smoked during pregnancy at twice the rate of non-Indigenous mothers [3].


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015. Australia’s mothers and babies 2013—in brief. Perinatal statistics series no. 31. Cat no. PER 72. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Cat. no. IHW 40. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare): Laws PJ & Sullivan EA 2004. Report on the Evaluation of the Perinatal National Minimum Data Set. Perinatal Statistics Series no. 14. AIHW cat. no. PER 27. Sydney: AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit.


  1. The data may include women who were pregnant more than once during the time period.
  2. Northern Territory: As data were available at the Indigenous Region level only, the figures reported for each Indigenous Area are the figures for the Indigenous Area’s corresponding Indigenous Region.
  3. Australian Capital Territory total: So as to not reveal data for the confidentialised Indigenous Area of Stromlo - Namadgi, the ACT total has also been confidentialised.

Data quality

Different questions are asked regarding smoking during pregnancy: in South Australia, smoking status was as at the first antenatal visit – in all other jurisdictions it was at any time during the pregnancy.

As is the case in most statistical collections in Australia, Indigenous status is under-reported in the midwives data collections from which these data are compiled. However, the level of completeness of coverage (the extent to which the identification of Indigenous Australians occurs in data collections) in these collections is generally higher than in the deaths or hospital inpatient data collections. It should also be noted that coverage is likely to vary between geographical areas.


Geography: Data available by Indigenous Area, Primary Health Networks, Indigenous Quintiles and Indigenous Remoteness Areas


Numerator:  Aboriginal women who reported that they smoked during a pregnancy (data over 3 years)


Denominator:  Number of pregnancies of Aboriginal women (recorded in the perinatal data collection in each State and Territory in Australia) (data over 3 years)


Detail of analysis:  Per cent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on data from: NSW Department of Health; Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity, Victoria; Perinatal Data Collection, Department of Health, Queensland; Department of Health and Ageing SA; WA Department of Health; Tasmanian Perinatal Database; NT Department of Health; and ACT Health.

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