Stop smoking team zeros in on youth

Nunavik youth trained as stop-smoking counselors


The stop-smoking message in Nunavik is zeroing in on youth, to encourage more of them to stop smoking, or to never start.

Earlier this month, 12 young people, aged 13 to 21, from seven Nunavik communities, received training to become the first Inuit youth smoking counselors in Canada.

Health Canada and the public health department of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services sponsored a five-day workshop in Kuujjuaq to teach them how to talk about smoking.

“It was very exciting to work with youth, who can then go back and pass on their learning to their peers,” said Kathy Snowball, a public health agent with the health board. “We have seen a big change in attitudes to smoking in recent years: more and more people — especially youth — are ready to quit and they are asking for help and support to do so.”

Youth smoking is a serious health concern in Nunavik. A 2002 study found that more than three-quarters of the region’s youth aged 14 and 16 are smokers.

Some 79.8 per cent of adolescents responded that they smoke, with 75 per cent reporting a daily smoking habit, and 50 per cent saying they consume between six and 10 cigarettes a day.

The study also found 30 per cent of adolescents began smoking when they were younger than 10, and that 66 per cent continue their habit, although they know it causes gum disease.

The training for youth counselors included details about the harmful health effects of smoking, a step-by-step approach on how to break addiction to tobacco, an introduction on how to help others, either by individual counseling or in support groups, and suggestions on how to start “Youth Coalition Against Smoking” groups in local schools and youth centres.

“We thought that many youth would be more comfortable approaching someone their own age for support, than an adult smoking counselor,” said Dr. Serge Dery, director of Nunavik’s public health department. “We have seen from the ‘Quit-to-Win Challenge’ statistics that youth are very open to the idea of quitting – much more so than adults and elders.”

The final results of the first challenge held in 2003 were released in March. Last year, 626 adults and youth, smokers and non-smokers, entered the competition, and promised to stay smoke-free for six weeks from March 1 to April 11.

This year, more than 850 participants signed on, and, of these, more than 300 are smokers and 500 are youth.

Participation among the region’s schools is up to 11 from seven last year.

About 50 per cent of the smokers in this year’s challenge say they would like to be contacted by a smoking counselor during the six weeks they’re trying to stay away from cigarettes.

The “Quit-to-Win Challenge” also offers incentives to keep away from cigarettes for six weeks.

Youth who resist temptation can win two airplane tickets to Montreal, within Nunavik or $300.

Adult women are eligible for a pair of airplane tickets to Montreal, while men are eligible for $3,000 from Nunavik’s cooperative federation, and elders 50 and up can win a pair of Air Inuit tickets for travel in Nunavik.

There will also be a draw for 14 runners-up, and one participant in both the youth and adult categories in every community will receive $200.

All winners must agree to be tested with “nico-alert” to make sure they stay tobacco-free.

The prizes for schools include, for the top performer, a Gold Cup and $3,000 for equipment. The second and third placers will receive $1,500 and $1,000.

The top community receives a community feast.

Every school and community that’s participating in the challenge will also receive $600 for promotion activities, such as a smoke-free dance or local prizes.

Smoking has a long history in Nunavik — much longer than any anti-smoking campaigns. Foreign whalers first began trading tobacco with Nunavimmiut in the 19th century.

In the mid-1990s, the health board established an anti-tobacco campaign to help combat the problem. The program now includes educational brochures, counselor training and free nicotine-suppression medications like Zyban for people who want to quit smoking.

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