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Nunavut updating smoking legislation to combat highest rates in the country

The prevalence of tobacco use remains high in the territory, at a rate four times higher than the national average.

As of October 2018, 74 per cent of those 16 years of age and older reported using tobacco products, according to a consultation report of the Tobacco Control and Smoke-free Places Act (TCSFPA). The national average is roughly 16 per cent for the same age group.

Tobacco butts litter various public places around Iqaluit and other parts of Nunavut, more enforcement is just one of the proposed amendments to the TSA.
Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

The number of youth aged 12 to 19 who use tobacco products remains the highest in the nation as well, at 51 per cent, more than six times the average Canadian rate of 7.7 percent.

From February to May 2020 the Government of Nunavut’s (GN) Department of Health held a number of public consultations in various communities all over Nunavut, asking people for feedback on changes to the TCSFPA – their findings were published later that year in October.

In-person townhall and stakeholder meetings were held with Elders, students, youth, tobacco retailers, hamlet office staff and healthcare workers. Remote consultations were necessary later via phone, email, call-in radio shows and other means due to the Covid-19 restrictions that began in March. All of the information gathered will help inform the development of the new legislation as well as be used to improve existing efforts in education and programming.

The first legislation related to tobacco control in Nunavut was introduced in 2003 with the Tobacco Control Act (later renamed to the TCSFPA), that remained in place until Nov. 2018 when the TCSFPA was replaced with the Tobacco and Smoking Act (TSA).

The report states it has become clear that Nunavummiut “want Nunavut’s tobacco-use rates reduced.”

The degree to which tobacco usage has been normalized among Nunavummiut is also a problem, people say.

“Even parents are buying their underage kids snuff (chew tobacco). It’s us parents who provide to our kids,” an anonymous Elder was quoted as saying in the report.

One individual, providing remote feedback, said the smell of tobacco smoke “is bad” inside GN (subsidized housing) units, with the smell often seeping through to other units via vents and washroom fans.

Suggested amendments made during the consultations include more community-based education specific to adults providing tobacco to youth, more enforcement of people smoking in non-smoking areas with an initial tiered emphasis on education for those offending followed by fines for repeat offenders.

More education among youth and children was also widely supported, particularly highlighting the addictive and harmful nature of smoking.

Another commonly supported amendment was to reduce the visibility of tobacco, something the report says “received nearly unanimous support” with a proposed ban on tobacco price advertising signs with people supporting an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to it.

One store manager said he could “understand how they could trigger cravings,” while an Elder said that “if they didn’t see the signs, they wouldn’t remember to buy cigarettes.”

Regulating emerging products from flavoured herbal shisha and vaping products also received support from those who were consulted.