Press Release

November 3, 2008

Nunavut-style leadership needed on First Nations tobacco issues
Physicians group hopeful that self government and improved dialogue can overcome barriers to better tobacco control policy in First Nations.  

(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 now smoke-free.

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. Kapur.

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 Canada:

• 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 communities.
• 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 communities.*

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