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Cambridge Bay ex-smoker reveals how she finally quit cigarettes

Seventy-four per cent of Nunavummiut ages 16 and up identified as smokers in 2016. Helen Koaha was not among them, but she used to be.

Helen Koaha of Cambridge Bay gave up cigarettes 10 years ago by seeing a hypnotist. She said she was worried about smoking increasing her chances of developing cancer and possibly cutting her life short, denying her the opportunity to see her children and grandchildren get married.
photo courtesy of Helen Koaha

After much encouragement from her spouse and children and many attempts at quitting – none lasting much longer than a month due to stress – she finally gave up cigarettes on Dec. 31, 2008. She hasn't had one since.

One session with a hypnotist during a visit to Edmonton did the trick, she said.

"I paid $200 and that's it," said Koaha.

A relative also succeeded in quitting smoking with the aid of a hypnotist, she added. Hypnosis didn't help a third person she knows, but acupuncture helped that person quit.

Koaha started smoking at age 14.

"I was just a bad, young teenager," she chuckled, adding that it made her feel "cool" because her friends also did it.

"It became a habit and I enjoyed smoking, especially when I had my tea or coffee," she recalled.

She would go through a pack of cigarettes every two days.

Now that she's kicked the habit for a decade, she no longer has cravings and if she happens to be near somebody who's smoking, "I don't like the smell of it," she said.

She added that she feels healthier without cigarettes. Her health was one of her main motivations for breaking her addiction.

"I want to see my kids get married or my grandchildren get married," she said. "One of the important reasons why I quit is because I didn't want to be sick at an early age with cancer."

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and lung cancer rates among Inuit are the highest among any demographic in the world, according to Statistics Canada.

One in five deaths in Nunavut is due to smoking, the Nunavut Department of Health stated.

More than 59 million cigarettes were sold to Nunavummiut between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, the Tobacco Control Act annual report revealed. That marked a very small increase over the previous year. However, sales of loose tobacco, chew and other non-smoked tobacco products fell by up to 37.4 per cent.

In addition to lung cancer, smoking can lead to pneumonia, chronic obstructive lung disease and it exacerbates asthma and tuberculosis.

To help Nunavummiut shed cigarettes, the GN sponsors the Nunavut QuitLine, which is anytime at 1-866-368-7848. Local pharmacies and health centres also offer products like nicotine patches, inhalers, gum and medications to assist those trying to quit smoking.