Reducing risky behaviours

Want to share your ideas about other activities we could be doing to reduce risk-taking behaviours in the ACT? Have your say about the next Healthy Canberra Action Plan until 28 July 2023.

What we want to achieve between 2020 and 2025

  • Risky behaviours
    • Fewer young people engaging in risk-taking behaviours
    • Reduced ongoing harms from the consequences of risk-taking behaviours
  • Tobacco smoking
    • Fewer children and young people using smoking products, including e-cigarettes
    • Lower rates of smoking among population groups at higher risk, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Risky drinking
    • A delay in the average age when young people take their first drink
    • Fewer people drinking at risky levels
  • Sexually transmissible infections and blood borne viruses
    • Fewer young people engaging in unsafe sex
    • Fewer people with chronic disease secondary to chronic blood-borne virus infection

A focus on risky behaviours

Risky behaviours is a term used to refer to behaviours that can impact a person’s health and wellbeing such as smoking tobacco or drinking too much alcohol.

These behaviours can be influenced by our environment and may emerge in adolescence when young people are more likely to take risks. Risky behaviours can contribute to chronic diseases that may reduce quality of life.

Promoting healthy behaviours among Canberrans can improve the health and wellbeing of our community.


Regulating new and emerging tobacco and nicotine products is an ongoing challenge.

Tobacco smoking remains the number one preventable cause of illness and premature death in Australia. It is the leading cause of cancer and contributes to other conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. An increasing number of young people are also now using e-cigarettes which can cause harm, including subsequent tobacco smoking.

Alcohol consumption

Evidence shows that drinking high amounts of alcohol contributes to weight gain and can cause liver disease, some cancers and cardiovascular disease. Alcohol-related harm also puts pressure on hospital emergency departments.

Sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses

Supporting safe sexual behaviours, including education and access to sexual health services, can have impacts on transmission of sexually transmitted infections and reduce longer-term impacts.

The risk of exposure to blood borne viruses can be prevented through education and support programs, including by providing access to equipment to avoid sharing or reuse of needles and syringes to inject drugs.

Key population health measures

The rate of avoidable mortality (death) is the main population health measure for the reducing risky behaviours priority area. These are deaths that could have been avoided for a person under the age of 75, either due to treatable or preventable illness.

In 2020, the rates of avoidable mortality were higher for males than females. Males in the ACT lost 95 years of healthy life per 100,000 people whereas females lost 54.4 years. This has decreased since 2010 when males lost 125.9 years and females lost 66.1 years.

Other relevant population health measures reported on HealthStats in the ACT include:

  • smoking
  • smoking during pregnancy
  • e-cigarettes
  • alcohol use
  • risky drinking
  • illicit drug use.

Further information about burden of disease measures including an update on trends in the ACT can be found in the latest Chief Health Officer reporting on burden of disease.

This priority area aligns with the Health domain of the Wellbeing Framework, in particular the overall health, healthy lifestyle, life expectancy, mental health and access to health services indicators.

Harm reduction and treatment for risky behaviours including smoking, e-cigarette, alcohol and illicit drug use are also addressed in the ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan 2022-2026, which has been developed to align with the Preventive Health Plan 2020-2025 and associated action plans.

Activities delivered under the first action plan

Tobacco and e-cigarettes

Advancing e-cigarette policy in the ACT

On 3 August 2021 the ACT Government passed a resolution to:

  • develop programs that educate and inform Canberrans, particularly younger Canberrans, about the risks of e-cigarettes and prevent their uptake and use
  • review relevant ACT legislation to ensure current arrangements are contributing to minimising the harm being caused by e-cigarettes and vaping, across our community, particularly young people
  • continue to advocate with relevant Commonwealth ministers for amendments to Commonwealth legislation to regulate e-cigarettes.

Work on all the above actions is in progress.

The Health Legislation Amendment Bill was passed in November 2022 to increase regulation of e‑cigarettes with the aim of reducing harm. The Bill:

  • clarified that e-cigarettes may not be sold using a vending machine
  • enabled compliance testing to be conducted for the sale of e-cigarettes to minors
  • extended therapeutic goods laws to enable the Therapeutic Goods Administration to take regulatory action against sole traders in the ACT in relation to the possession or sale of nicotine vaping products.

The ACT government also continues to monitor rapid industry innovations in the marketing, illicit sale and use of nicotine products and the emerging evidence about the health impact of e-cigarettes and other novel smoking and nicotine products.

On 2 May 2023 the Australian Government released the National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030 alongside announcing a raft of changes to the regulation and enforcement of vaping products. The ACT Government is working with the Australian Government and State and Territory colleagues to identify how to support the implementation of these changes within the ACT.

Research into e-cigarette use in the ACT

An ACT Health research project during 2022 showed that e-cigarette use among young people in the ACT has grown rapidly, is normalised, and minors find it very easy to access e-cigarette products.

The research will help inform public messaging to raise awareness about e-cigarette harms and to de-normalise vaping.

Tobacco and E-cigarette Prevention Community of Practice

The Tobacco and E-cigarette Community of Practice was established in 2021 to contribute to strategies and policies that aim to prevent and delay smoking among young Canberrans and help smokers quit through greater access and uptake of smoking cessation products.

Since the first meeting in June 2021, the Community of Practice continues to meet quarterly and engages with a range of cross-directorate, non-government organisations, not-for-profits and academic stakeholders.

Resources to reduce harm from e-cigarettes

The ACT Government has worked collaboratively with educators across public, independent and catholic schools to develop a teacher professional learning course, curriculum aligned classroom resources and parent/carer resources to strengthen e-cigarette education and prevention strategies in school communities. A comprehensive package of resources will be available in Term 2, 2023.

The Safer Baby Bundle initiative

Since 2020, the Safer Baby Bundle initiative has provided ACT maternity healthcare professionals with evidence-based education on smoking cessation, fetal growth restriction, decreased fetal movements, side sleeping and timing of birth. The initiative aims to reduce stillbirth in the ACT by 20%.

Smoke-free areas

The ACT Government provides free ‘no smoking’ signs to community groups, businesses and body corporates and monitors the need for additional smoke-free areas.

Through the Healthier Choices Canberra Junior Sport initiative, efforts are being made to decrease smoking around ACT Government sports fields.


Alcohol and COVID-19

The ACT Government is continuing to monitor potential issues arising from internet supply and home delivery of alcohol and is considering whether further regulation of online liquor sales and delivery is required.

Driving Change Study

The Driving Change Study captured information from all adults who presented to Emergency Departments in the ACT about whether they drank alcohol before they attended, where they bought the alcohol, and the location of the last drink.

The project aims to create a geospatial map and analysis report to identify themes about alcohol-related harm that could inform policy.

Research into alcohol-related harms at universities

A research project was conducted in partnership with the Australian National University’s Research School of Population Health to explore emerging issues and identified gaps relating to alcohol-related harms for students in university settings.

A comprehensive research report was provided to ACT Health to inform policy approaches to reducing alcohol-related harm.

Restricting alcohol marketing

In 2016, the ACT Government introduced a policy restricting alcohol advertising on buses and was extended to light rail. This helps to reduce exposure to marketing of alcohol in the community.

Promoting free drinking water at on-license premises

Refill Canberra is working with businesses through the Healthier Choices Canberra program to promote free drinking water at on-license premises. 140 businesses were participating as of 2022.  

Public education of safe drinking guidelines -

Healthier Choices Canberra collaborated with key partners to promote new safe dinking guidelines in the junior sport environment that recommend: ‘To reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol’.

Alcohol – Think Again. ‘I need you to say no’ campaign

In 2020, the ACT Government Justice and Community Safety Directorate delivered the ‘Alcohol – Think Again: I need you to say no’ campaign. This was adapted from a similar program delivered by the Western Australian Government.

The campaign aims to promote the message that most parents do not provide alcohol to children and it is best for young people to delay first alcohol use until at least 18 years.

Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm

The Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm is a therapeutic community-based program to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make ongoing and meaningful changes in their lives.

One of the aims of the program is to help people think about the meaning and impact alcohol and/or other drugs have on their lives.

Sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses

Directions ACT and Hepatitis ACT Needle and Syringe Programs

The Government invested $982,000 over 4 years in the 2021-22 budget for ongoing expansion of the existing Needle and Syringe program. This program provides sterile injecting equipment and education to injecting drug users to reduce the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other blood borne viruses.

This funding will also allow options for a medically supervised injecting/drug consumption facility to be explored. This includes the development of a suitable service model and a potential location.

Supervised injecting facilities provide sterile injecting equipment and help to prevent overdoses. To investigate whether such a facility would be feasible in the ACT as a harm-reduction measure, the ACT Medically Supervised Injecting Facility Feasibility Study was completed in early 2021.

Sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses report

The ACT Government commissioned the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales to develop the ACT Sexually Transmissible Infections and Blood Borne Viruses surveillance report. The report is due to be published in 2023.

The report used data to assess progress against the goals and priorities in the sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses subsector. It will also look at the impact of COVID-19.

ACT sexual health webpage updates

The ACT Sexual Health landing page on ACT Health’s website has been updated with information on sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses, what to expect during sexually transmitted infection checks, and where to access sexual health services.

ACT Health continues to provide up-to-date information on emerging issues, for example a new page for mpox (monkeypox) was created in 2022.

Commissioning services

Commissioning is underway in the sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses subsector. This will guide sector capacity building activities so the final procurement of services reflects the contemporary needs of the ACT community.

Viral hepatitis and HIV screening and treatment at the Canberra Hospital

In 2020, to ensure clients have streamlined access to new Hepatitis C treatments, the Canberra Health Services Alcohol and Drug Service introduced direct access to screening, assessment and Hepatitis C treatment within the Alcohol and Drug Service.

The services provided to patients also include screening for other blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

Programs funded through the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program

The ACT Health Promotion Grants Program offers grants to community-based organisations to improve the health of Canberrans and minimise the risk of them developing chronic diseases.

In November 2021, the Healthy Canberra Grants: Focus on Reducing Risky Behaviours round was launched with a total of $1.4 million over 3 years. This funding supports programs that aim to reduce risky behaviours including use of alcohol and tobacco, with a focus on education, prevention, and support for sexually transmissible infections and blood borne viruses.

Funded programs included:

  • Companion House’s Sharing and Learning program which aims to prevent and reduce the harms associated with alcohol in the community.
  • Forcibly Displaced People Network’s Safe and Healthy program which aims to increase the sexual health literacy of LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees.
  • Hepatitis ACT’s Reach, Teach, Treat, Thrive, which aims to support people living with Hepatitis C to access and complete curative treatment in community-based settings by reducing barriers to care and increasing access to support.
  • Meridian’s community-driven campaigns which aim to address gaps in sexual health information for key sub-population groups in the LGBTIQ+ population, and to educate health practitioners about the specific sexual health needs of these groups.
  • Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT’s Interface program which aims to enhance youth engagement to inform sexual and bloodborne virus health promotion activities.

In December 2019, the Healthy Canberra Grants: Focus on Reducing Smoking-Related Harm round was launched with a total of $889,287 over 3 years.

Funded programs delivered from 2021 included:

  • Directions Health Service’s Butt it Out! Smoking Program which aims to address tobacco dependency in an alcohol and other drug treatment and primary care practice alongside their main substance dependency.
  • Cancer Council ACT’s Tackling Tobacco in the ACT which is an integrated program to reduce health and social inequalities through addressing smoking in disadvantaged communities.
  • Worldview Foundation’s Smoke, Booze and Drug Free Prison Post-Release program which provides support to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, including those who have been in contact with the justice system.

Between 2020 and 2022, a range of other programs that aim to reduce risky behaviours were funded:

  • Australian Red Cross Society was funded $184,468 between 2020 and 2021 for the save-a-mate program which aims to equip young people and persons at risk with the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognise and respond to AOD emergencies through a harm reduction framework.
  • Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education was funded $397,086 between 2018 and 2021 for the Ripple program which aimed to reduce alcohol harm among women in the ACT using an intervention program and targeted awareness campaign.
  • FARE was funded $762,940 between 2019 and 2021 for the Preventing alcohol-related chronic disease program which aims to develop and evaluate a public education campaign to raise awareness of the long-term harms of alcohol consumption.
  • FARE was funded $181,801 between 2020 and 2021 for the Pregnant Pause - Be a Hero, Take Zero program which builds on the Pregnant Pause (swap the pub for your bub) campaign to create an environment where women are supported by the whole community to have alcohol-free pregnancies.
  • FARE was funded $79,021 between 2020 and 2021 for the Reaching Men in the ACT program which explores the most effective methods to engage with men about their drinking habits and aims to increase awareness of the harms associated with risky drinking.
  • Meridian Incorporated (trading as AIDS Action Council of the ACT) was funded $184,468 between 2019 and 2022 for the Not So Straight Up program to deliver a multi-faceted campaign aimed at reducing risky drinking behaviour and lifetime alcohol related harm within LGBTIQ communities in the ACT.
  • Canberra Health Service was funded $154,400 between 2019 and 2022 for the Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth Canberra Outreach program which is an in-school injury prevention strategy aimed at senior high school students aged 15-16 years in the ACT.
  • Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services was funded $476,200 between 2019 and 2022 for the Reducing alcohol-related harm for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples program which seeks to prevent the uptake of excessive alcohol consumption, provide community-wide education about risky drinking and reduce harm associated with such drinking.
Page last updated on: 4 Jul 2023