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Editorial: Nunavut needs to butt out

With costs to health and your pocketbook there are more reasons than ever to put that cigarette out for good

The issue: Tobacco use
We say: Money up in smoke

Tobacco use in Nunavut is out of control – in a 2018 Government of Nunavut report, it was revealed that 74 per cent of Nunavummiut aged 16 and over were either occasional or daily smokers.

Fifty-one per cent of children aged 12 to 19 have tried or habitually use tobacco products. These numbers dwarf the national averages of 15.8 and 7.7 per cent, respectively. Even our closest neighbours in the NWT can only boast that 34 per cent of their population are casual or daily smokers.

The World Health Organization calls "the tobacco epidemic ... one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced."

Most of us have heard the warnings concerning increased risk of cancers and heart and lung diseases that come from tobacco use, after all, they're plastered all over the packages in which we get those coffin nails. Approximately 90 per cent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco use and Nunavut has a rate three times that of the national average for such cancers.
Smoking worsens asthma, increases the risk of pneumonia and makes regular activities harder due to decreased lung capacity. It's hard on your teeth, too.

Research done by the GN in the Qikiqtaaluk region showed 80 per cent of mothers smoked through their entire pregnancy, which contributes to low birth weights and premature births.

It's not just limited to cigarettes either. Chewing tobacco or snuff is just as addictive and just as detrimental to your health. Vaping offers the same nicotine hit in attractive flavours that make it more enticing to youth, and those under 25 make up approximately half the population.

Cannabis, too, is part of the equation, even more so now that a great deal of the lingering stigma is lifting on its use and it's more easily available through legal means.

The GN has put limitations on tobacco use in the territory, as outlined in its 2018 Tobacco Control and Smoke-Free Places Act consultation report.

The report states: "In October 2018, Nunavut's Cannabis Act and the Cannabis Statutes and Amendments Act both introduced significant changes to Nunavut's tobacco control legislation in the form of increased no-smoking buffer zones, new smoke-free places and an updated definition of smoking that includes tobacco, cannabis, and vaping. These were the first changes made to the tobacco control legislation in 15 years."

According to the report, there are 93 licensed tobacco retailers in Nunavut's 25 communities.

Each year, close to 60 million cigarettes are sold in Nunavut. That's 60 million cigarette butts in our landfills, littering our streets and being pulled out of waterways or picked off of beaches.

At close to $1 per cigarette, that's $60 million that is literally being burned every year. And, from 2019 to 2020 the federal government made more than $22 million in tax revenues from tobacco sales in Nunavut.

Education and signage are both important pieces of the puzzle, and it's good the GN is working to update policies and legislation. Making sure kids never start smoking is the surest way to reduce tobacco use in the territory.

The biggest changes will need to be made at the community level, and in the home, though. Surely, it's time to commit to quitting.