The impact of subsidized low aromatic fuel (LAF) on petrol (gasoline) sniffing in remote Australian Indigenous communities

Peter d'Abbs, Gillian Shaw, Emma Field

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Background: Since 2005, the Australian Government has subsidized the production and distribution of Low Aromatic Fuel (LAF) as a deterrent against petrol (gasoline) sniffing in remote Indigenous communities. LAF is used in place of unleaded petrol as a fuel for vehicles and other engines. This paper reports findings from an independent evaluation of the LAF rollout. 

Methods: Forty one Indigenous communities were surveyed between 2010 and 2014, with each community being visited twice at a two yearly interval. Quantitative data on prevalence of petrol sniffing were collected, as well as qualitative data on the acceptability of LAF, evidence of substitution for inhaled petrol with other drugs, and programs such as recreational, training and employment opportunities. Prevalence rates of sniffing per 1000 population for each survey year and community were calculated by dividing the total number of sniffers by the population aged 5-39years and multiplying by 1000. 

Results: Between 2011-12 and 2013-14, the total estimated number of people sniffing petrol declined from 289 to 204, a fall of 29.4%. At both times, the median petrol sniffing prevalence rate was lower in communities with LAF than in communities without LAF. In 17 of the 41 communities, comparable data were available over a longer period, commencing in 2005-06. Fifteen of these communities stocked LAF over the entire period. In these communities, the median rate of petrol sniffing declined by 96%, from 141.6 per 1000 population in 2005-06 to 5.5 in 2013-14 (p < 0.05). LAF was widely accepted, although acceptance was often qualified by a belief that LAF harmed engines. Anecdotal reports suggest that the fall in petrol sniffing may have been offset by increased use of cannabis and other drugs, but the relationship is not one of simple cause-and-effect, with evidence that an increase in cannabis use in communities commenced before the LAF rollout began. Provision of services in communities has improved in recent years, but many programs continue to be inadequately resourced. 

Conclusions: The rollout of LAF appears to have contributed to reducing petrol sniffing and associated harms in Australian Indigenous communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSubstance Abuse: Treatment, Prevention, and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2017


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