Protect Indigenous Youth From Tobacco Use Too #SparkChange

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There are two stories of smoking in Canada. The current smoking rate of Indigenous youth is nearly 40%, compared to 4% for Canadian youth overall. Given that the Canadian youth smoking rate was roughly 20% in 1998, one of these stories is a successful one. But why doesn’t the other have a happy ending in sight?

The Indigenous youth smoking rate has barely changed in decades. In some parts of the country, like British Colombia, it’s as high as 54%. We also know that Indigenous youth start smoking at younger ages than non-Indigenous youth smokers, and that young Indigenous women are at the greatest risk of starting to smoke.

The Canadian government should be proud of what they’ve done to protect their kids from smoking. But they should also know that these efforts don’t always extend to all communities.  

Decades ago the Canadian government banned tobacco advertising. This protected kids from the glamour images of smoking, and kept cigarettes farther from their minds. But on reserves within a one-hour drive from Ottawa or Montreal, huge tobacco billboards promote cigarettes everywhere and posters offer prizes and discounts.

Taxes for cigarettes have also sky-rocketed in the last twenty years. A pack of 25 smokes in Ottawa costs $14, which makes kids think twice about laying down a lot of cash for a bad habit. But 200 native-brand cigarettes can be bought all over for just a few dollars.

Packs of cigarettes across Canada are covered with warning messages and terrifying photos of the consequences of smoking. But my friends at school smoked cigarettes from plain zip-lock baggies, and the messages were lost on them.

Indigenous cultures have always used tobacco for ceremonial and spiritual purposes, but this doesn’t include cigarettes. We need to honour and celebrate our histories, and doing that should include keeping our kids away from types of tobacco that aren’t part of our culture.

Non-Indigenous kids growing up in Canada are pretty well protected from the dangers of smoking. They will never see a cigarette ad, never see cigarettes for sale, never be allowed to buy cigarettes from a store, and won’t be tempted by mint flavours and cheap prices.  

We now need to hear our government and leaders talk about ways to make sure that all kids in Canada are equally protected.

Please sign this petition to tell the Minister of Health, the Minister of Indigenous Services, and our Assembly of First Nations that anti-smoking protections given to Canadian youth need to be extended to Indigenous youth too.