Teens make quitting cool

“I didn’t want to get a hole in my throat and mouth”



It began with a 15-year-old girl, a regular at Iqaluit’s Makkuttukkuvik youth centre at the Arctic Winter Games arena. She had been a smoker for five years — since she was 10 years old. And she had finally had enough.

But she needed help.

So she spoke to Amy Elgersma, the city’s youth coordinator and the teen-friendly supervisor of the youth centre. And Elgersma suggested they start a support group with other teens who also want to quit — or are open to the suggestion.

“They started it themselves,” Elgersma says modestly during a break in one of the group’s regular Thursday afternoon sessions. “That’s the best, when they do it themselves.”

On a survey she filled out when the group started, on Nov. 14, the girl, who doesn’t want her parents to know how bad her habit got to be, said she first tried smoking when she was eight years old. She decided to quit when she realized it was starting to affect her health.

“It’s gross. I didn’t want to get a hole in my throat and mouth,” said one teenage boy who attended last week’s session.

“All my grandparents died of cancer,” said a teenage girl, another regular at the sessions.

The changing attitude of Iqaluit teens seems to suggest that the message is getting through. Some are slowly starting to realize that smoking may not be as cool as their friends said it would be.

“The reason they start [smoking] is because their friends are doing it, and now the reason they’re quitting is the same thing. It’s cool,” Elgersma said.

That’s encouraging news in Nunavut, where 75 per cent of youth (that’s people younger than 19) currently smoke, according to data from the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics.

And 19 per cent of children between the ages of five and 11 have already smoked their first cigarette.

A chart on Elgersma’s office door tracking the number of cigarettes each participant has smoked in a week shows that after just five weeks, many of the participants in the support group have quit entirely. The rest are down to just a couple of cigarettes a week.

“I used to smoke four to five sticks a day. Now it’s one and a half. Today, probably two,” said the boy.

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