Staff at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) are taking a comical approach to helping Indigenous people quit smoking and it is proving quite successful.
The Smokes and Jokes Comedy Show first began when Laura Thompson form VAHS approached producer and MC of the show Jason Tamiru for guidance on the idea, and it grew from there.
Rather than taking a pushy, do-gooder approach to telling people to butt out, Jason says that humour and drawing attention to the effects smoking has on their appearance has had people in stitches.
“When you put a mirror up to people’s face and you make a bit of fun about how you may look, what you may do, how you may smell, how other people see you, what you’re doing regarding money to buy these cigarettes, and what you do when you get a cigarette, it gets a reaction,” Jason says.
“We put the mirror up to them in a humorous way and the responses we get from the people in the audience…well they can relate to it. It’s not a show that shoves a lot of information down your throat, we’re just having fun with this topic and people can make their own minds up.”
Comedians who participate in the show include Kevin Kopinyeri, up-and-coming comedian Denise McGuiness, who just happens to be from VAHS, along with her daughter Dawn. And they have been receiving great feedback from the audience so far.
Currently the 45 minute show has been performed in front of about 300 people, with all of them being held in the Melbourne area. Jason says he hopes to take it wherever it needs to go.
“They love it; they absolutely love the show. Everyone speaks really highly of it and people want it to come within their regions,” Jason says.
“Smoking affects so many blackfellas Australia-wide and I know there are a lot of programs out there, and this is another one. The difference between this one and others, well this one is a stand-up comedy show.”
At present, almost 47 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and older smoke every day.
On average, Indigenous men in Australia live to approximately 67 years of age, while Indigenous women live until they are about 73. This is in comparison to non-Indigenous men who live to about 79 years of age, and non-Indigenous women who live to about 83.
One of the huge contributing factors to these numbers is that Aboriginal people die younger from tobacco caused diseases such as heart disease, lung and throat disease and cancers. Approximately 20 per cent of Aboriginal people will die from illness caused by smoking.