Issue 15
Monday, 29 August 2016
Charles Darwin University
The research was led by Professor Peter d’Abbs
The research was led by Professor Peter d’Abbs

Research: petrol sniffing on decline

By Erin Neil

Petrol sniffing rates in Indigenous communities have declined since the introduction of low aromatic unleaded fuel (LAF), a study by Menzies School of Health Research has revealed.

The independent study, Monitoring trends in the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Australian Aboriginal communities 2011-2014, was commissioned by the Australian Government and led by Professor Peter d’Abbs (Menzies) and Gillian Shaw (Bowchung).

Since 2011, the number of people sniffing petrol has fallen by almost 30 per cent in the 41 communities examined in the study.

Professor d’Abbs said that over the longer term, the decline in petrol sniffing has been even more marked. In 17 communities from the study, comparable data was also available from 2005-06. In those communities, sniffing incidence rates fell by 88 per cent.

“The introduction of low aromatic fuel in remote communities has been associated with a continuing decline of the number of young people sniffing petrol,” Professor d’Abbs said.

“In addition to an overall decrease in the prevalence of sniffing, people who do sniff tend to do so less frequently, which suggests that less harm is being caused by petrol sniffing in Australia’s remote and rural Indigenous communities than previously.”

As well as monitoring trends of petrol sniffing, researchers conducted interviews with community members to understand how they felt about the introduction of LAF.

In most communities the introduction of LAF was widely supported, although in some places this was qualified by frustration regarding the continuing availability of regular unleaded petrol from other outlets.

The interviews also confirmed that many communities faced ongoing problems with alcohol and cannabis use.

“While petrol sniffing is often part of a pattern of opportunistic poly drug use, the rise in cannabis use predates the introduction of LAF into communities, and cannot be attributed to LAF,” Professor d’Abbs said.

Overall, the findings showed that improvements to community programs and services, combined with the effectiveness of LAF in preventing petrol sniffing, had helped to improve health and wellbeing for young people.

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