National Inuit Leader President’s Speech: World No Tobacco Day

Speaking notes for National Inuit Leader Mary Simon
World No Tobacco Day
May 31, 2010

Ullaakuk. Good Morning. Bonjour.

I am delighted to be here today with Minister Aglukkaq on World No Tobacco Day to draw attention to an issue that is distinctly different in the Arctic – the extremely high prevalence of smoking among Inuit – and to tell you about some programs we are working on with Inuit regions and communities to reduce the rate of tobacco use among our people.Two-thirds of Inuit in Canada are smokers. The recent Inuit Child Health Survey tells us that more than 80% of Inuit women in Nunavut smoke during pregnancy. Another study says 85% of infants in Nunavut’s capital are exposed to smoke while in the womb.

We know that smoking during pregnancy deprives the fetus of oxygen, and contributes to premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

We also know that smoking is an addiction, it is often a “survival strategy” to help adults and young people cope with emotional pain.

It is important to point out that this day is not about casting judgment on smokers. It is about providing the tools that Inuit need to take control of their health and their lives. It is about empowerment.

As Leona mentioned, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami will be working with Inuit regions on a project aimed at creating pride among Inuit families whose children are born “smoke-free.”

The Born Smoke-Free program is an information campaign aimed at pregnant women and women who may become pregnant. It is particularly important because it shows that second-hand smoke can affect people at any age – even before they are born.

Second-hand smoke is a significant challenge in Inuit communities, given the long, cold winters that keep us indoors for extended periods, the severe overcrowding in our homes and our very high smoking rates.

However, there are signs of progress. A 2004 health survey in Nunavik found that half of all smokers had tried to quit during the previous 12 months. A school survey from the same region in 2002 found that 80% of youth smokers had tried to quit during the previous year.

But wellness is truly habit-forming. That’s why ITK, in partnership with Inuit regions, is also rolling out a project called the Blue Light Campaign. If you see a blue light bulb on the porch of an Inuit household, you know that family has committed to smoking outdoors or to quitting altogether.
We will see the power of our message as the blue light spreads across communities.

These two campaigns are not new to us. They have been successfully implemented in several Nunatsiavut and Nunavik communities, and will now be extended to communities in Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories, and one additional Nunavik community. The programs will also target Inuit households in Ottawa through the Ottawa-based Tungasuvvingat Inuit.

Inuit rely on this type of partnership and sharing of ideas. It is how our communities survived thousands of years ago and it is how we will return our communities to health – the health they enjoyed in the days before they were introduced to tobacco.

To quote a slogan from a popular anti-smoking campaign operated by Pauktuutit, Inuit Women of Canada – “Our Ancestors Never Smoked.”

I would like to thank Health Canada for its continuing support of these initiatives as a part of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy.

I would also like to thank the members of ITK’s National Inuit Tobacco Task Group, which includes representatives from each of our Inuit regions, as well as from other organizations. This group, which is a subcommittee of our Naitional Inuit Committee on Health, was involved in the development of these projects, and has taken an important advocacy role in reducing smoking among Inuit.

I would like to recognize the task group members who have joined us here today – Looee Okalik from ITK, Geri Bailey from Pauktuutit, Catherine Carrie from the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s Inuit Tuttarvingat and Christine Lund from Tungasuvvingat Inuit.

Their goal – and ours – is to promote Inuit-specific, culturally affirming and community-empowering initiatives to reduce the use of tobacco among Inuit.

Nakurmiik. Thank you. Merci.

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