Equality vs Equity - Working towards Making Smoking History

Posted 31 May 2017.

Despite tobacco smoking rates in the general population now being at an all-time low, it is the most socially and financially disadvantaged members of our community that remain the most affected by tobacco.

In turn people experiencing social and financial disadvantage carry an unfair burden of tobacco-related diseases, death and financial stress. To understand and reduce high smoking rates among people experiencing social and financial disadvantage, we need to first understand the difference between equality and equity.

Equality and equity are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. Over recent years you may have seen different versions of the below graphic circulating the web attempting to explain the two concepts.


Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire


While both are strategies to achieve fairness, as the gap between the rich and poor increases in Australia, it is important we understand their definitions and get this conversation right.

Equality is about giving everyone the same thing. In the graphic this is equal access to the same number of crates. However, equality only works if everyone is starting from the same position (i.e. we have access to the same education, health, employment opportunities etc.). Like the example demonstrates, equality does not work when people are starting from different situations to begin with.

Equity is about making sure that everybody has what they need to improve the quality of their individual situation. It recognises that people’s contexts are different and some people may need more support to achieve the same objective as everyone else. This is because they are not starting from the same position to begin with, and/or are faced with additional barriers.

In the graphic this is demonstrated by some people requiring access to more crates than others to see over the fence. Likewise, some people may need additional support to live healthy smoke free lives.


Health inequities - Looking beyond the individual

The often, uncontrollable socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions that people live and work in, can influence people’s behaviour both positively and negatively.

Often it is the social environment (i.e. low levels of education, access to stable employment, housing etc.) that leads to the behaviour (i.e. smoking) which causes the problem (i.e. death, disease and financial stress). This means that the circumstances that people face make it more likely that they will take up smoking and face more barriers to quitting.

As a result, it is the most socially and financially disadvantaged members of our community that carry a larger burden of tobacco-related disease, death and financial stress.

Conversely, when people have access to stable accommodation, healthcare, education and employment they are less likely to take up risky lifestyle behaviours like tobacco smoking.


Providing equitable access to support

Using this concept of equity we recognise that people experiencing social and financial disadvantages who smoke may face additional barriers to quitting and therefore, may require additional support to live healthy smoke free lives.

That is why we're partnering with community service organisations, to ensure that we provide appropriate support for those that need it most.

We know that people experiencing social and financial disadvantage are less likely to be asked about their smoking, and offered support to cut down and quit from health and other service providers.

In partnership with community service organisations, we're working to change this!


Let us leave no one behind on World No Tobacco Day

Every year, on 31 May, the World Health Organization and partners all around the world mark World No Tobacco Day.

We’ve launched a partnership with St Bartholomew’s House calling for the unjust burden of tobacco disease to be shifted from disadvantaged groups.

To achieve equitable access to support and leave no one behind we call on everyone working in health and community services to be part of the solution, and help break the cycle of smoking and disadvantage. It is only then that we can work towards making smoking history for all.

If you work in health or community services we encourage you to visit the Make Smoking History for Community Services website for more information. Our Make Smoking History team can also be contacted on makesmokinghistory@canncerwa.asn.au or on 9388 4309.

And if you’re currently a smoker and would like some help to quit, or if someone you know is trying to quit, visit the Make Smoking History website for handy tips on how to cut down and stay quit.

Found in:  News - 2017  | View all news