Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 7 - October 2011
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More than half of Inuit are smoking daily

The Inuit Tobacco-free Network has a tough road ahead

Tobacco has wreaked havoc on Canada’s 50,000 Inuit: according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, more than half (58%) of the population smoke daily, compared with 19% of Canadians. For Inuit aged 20 to 24, the situation is even more troubling: two out of three (63%) are addicted to smoking.

In 2009, thanks to a $170,000 grant from Health Canada, Inuit Tuttarvingat, a wing of the National Aboriginal Health Organization, created the Inuit Tobacco-free Network (ITN). The goal: to reduce tobacco addiction among these native people of Asian origin.

Culturally appropriate materials

Since its creation, “ITN has provided distance education training on tobacco cessation for about 30 health professionals and community outreach workers,” said Catherine Carry, Senior Program Officer of Inuit Tuttarvingat.

ITN has also collected and made available all the anti-tobacco material adapted to life above the tree line. Although quitting smoking is similar whether one is in the North or in the South, there are, nonetheless, some unique aspects to the strategies used with the Inuit. “The documentation provided to smokers must contain Inuit rather than Canadian statistics and it must show Inuit people,” stated Carry, who has worked in smoking cessation for 16 years. For example, one brochure on the benefits of a smoke-free life advises the Inuit to replace smoke breaks with a little time working on their snowmobiles. “We also suggest that they visit a friend. In the North, it’s possible to go see a friend on impulse because visitors usually arrive unannounced.”

ITN also looks to facilitate communication between all those who fight against smoking among the Inuit. Today, “our network includes about 70 people, including health workers, researchers and policy makers,” claimed Carry with obvious pride.

The smoke stories: quit clips

ITN also coordinated an Inuit youth Video Screening Contest. It provided five young people with a digital camera with which to collect stories from friends and family on their relationship to smoking. Afterward, a professional editor used the footage to create seven videos, each about four minutes long. Students in Nunavut voted for their favourite and the winner, Quitting, aired on public broadcaster CBC North.

“We targeted young people because they have very high rates of smoking and they make up the majority of the Inuit population,” Carry explained. Indeed, 56% of this population is under 25 years old, compared with 31% of Canadians, according to the most recent figures from Statistics Canada.

While smoking rates remain high among the Inuit, ITN is confident that change is possible. “ITN has strengthened their ability to solve this problem,” Carry concluded.

By Anick Perreault-Labelle


New Quitline supports Nunavummiut who want to stop smoking


Nunavut Quitline is a new toll-free quit smoking help line to support Nunavummiut who decide to quit smoking. The territorial Department of Health and Social Services launched the phone line on April 15, 2010. It provides counselling and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Inuktitut, English, Inuinnaqtun and French. Funding for this project is provided by Health Canada. 

Nunavut Quitline is supported by a public awareness campaign highlighting the positive reasons to quit smoking and sends the message that ‘quitting is worth it!’  The campaign includes a variety of promotional materials, as well as a ‘Quit Pack’ resource with information and tips about quitting smoking and staying smoke-free. 

Smoking affects the health of many people in Nunavut.  All Nunavummiut are encouraged to quit smoking and live smoke free: “If you want to quit smoking call 1-866-3NU-QUIT  (1-866-368-7848)  today.”