November 3, 2008
Nunavut-style leadership needed on First Nations tobacco
Physicians group hopeful that
self government and improved dialogue can overcome
barriers to better tobacco control policy in First
(Ottawa – November 3,
2008) Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada today welcomed
Leona Aglukkaq, from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut as Canada’s new
Minister of Health.
“We hope that the success achieved by the Honourable
Leona Aglukkaq in tobacco control while she was in the
Cabinet in Nunavut can be continued and expanded to all
aboriginal communities and all other communities in
Canada too,” said Dr. Atul Kapur, President of
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
In 2003, while working as a volunteer for Physicians for
a Smoke-Free Canada, the late Heather Crowe journeyed to
Nunavut and urged the government to adopt strong tobacco
control laws. The Nunavut government became Canada's
first jurisdiction to go smoke-free in 2004, the year
that Ms. Aglukkaq was first elected.
Nunavut, which some have called Canada’s first
post-treaty aboriginal government, is a leader in
tobacco control laws, policies and programs among
Canada’s provinces and territories.
For many years Nunavut had the highest rate of tobacco
use of any province or territory and it still does. Yet,
as clear evidence of the effectiveness of Nunavut’s
tobacco control policies, since 2003, smoking prevalence
has declined faster in Nunavut than any other province
or territory, and three-quarters of Nunavut homes are
In contrast, progress on tobacco control in most of
Canada has stalled in recent years. Overall smoking
prevalence has remained unchanged at 19-20% since 2004.
“We hope that Ms Aglukkaq can build on her positive
experiences with tobacco control in Nunavut and resume
progress towards the government’s goal of reducing
Canadian smoking prevalence to 12% by 2011,” said Dr.
The example of progress in tobacco control in Nunavut
also augurs well for progress that could be made in
other aboriginal communities.
"Nunavut has shown that self-government can lead to
reduced tobacco use," said Dr. Atul Kapur. While
progress is being made in Nunavut, the tobacco epidemic
continues to rage in other aboriginal communities in
• While lung cancer rates are going down among men in
Canada, they are going up among First Nations men.
• Smoking prevalence in aboriginal communities far
exceeds the national average.
• Cheap cigarettes are advertised and easily available
in most First Nations communities.
• There is little protection from second-hand smoke in
workplaces and public places in many First Nations
• Cigarettes are sold in First Nations communities that
are not fire-safe and have no health warnings.
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada favours
nation-to-nation discussions as a promising way forward
towards an autonomous and responsible approach to
tobacco control in First Nations and other aboriginal
The circumstances surrounding tobacco in First Nations
and other aboriginal communities are complex and
challenging. Repeated failure to address them
effectively has led to higher smoking rates among
vulnerable aboriginal peoples and contributed to the
development of a harmful contraband tobacco trade.
“We look forward to Ms. Aglukkaq building on her
successful experiences in Nunavut and bringing a fresh
and effective approach to working together with First
Nations and other aboriginal peoples. Together, they
have the opportunity to develop comprehensive tobacco
control programs that are both consistent with
international recommendations and appropriate to
aboriginal communities," said Dr. Kapur.
"We are hopeful that Ms. Aglukkaq can work with First
Nations governments and other aboriginal communities to
create effective, community-supported progress in
controlling the tobacco epidemic among Canada’s 1.2
million aboriginal people,” he concluded.
Contact: Neil Collishaw,
Research Director, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
Office: 1 613 233 4878; Mobile: 1 613 297 3590
* Towards effective
tobacco control in First Nations and Inuit communities