"In my heart, the tobacco, once it’s lit, the smoke is going to take my message to the Creator for whatever my vows are." —Elder Genevieve Bruised Head
To Indigenous people, traditional tobacco is a sacred plant. It is a gift from the Creator. It’s important to honour the role tobacco plays in many Indigenous cultures.
Commercial tobacco—such as cigarettes and
spit or smokeless tobacco—is different from traditional tobacco. Harmful chemicals like nicotine have been added to make it more addictive. Over time, using commercial tobacco products is dangerous for your health.
Every year, more than 4,000 Albertans die from using commercial tobacco. Many more have tobacco-related illnesses.
At least half of all people who smoke will die because of their tobacco use, and over half of all First Nations people smoke. This means that more than 1 in 4 First Nations people could die early because of smoking.
In Indigenous communities, children often start using commercial tobacco—such as smoking and using spit or smokeless tobacco—much younger than in other communities. Some children are as young as 7 or 8 when they start.
Recent studies show that vaping is also higher among Indigenous youth. While there’s still a lot to learn about the harms of vaping, we do know that it can damage your lungs.
When you smoke or vape, you expose the people around you to
second-hand and third-hand smoke or vapour.
Being exposed to second-hand smoke (smoke you blow out or that comes from the burning end of a cigarette) is harmful. It’s especially bad for babies because their lungs are still growing and developing.
Small children who live with people who smoke have a higher risk of diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and middle-ear infections. They’re also more likely to have problems with coughs, colds, and ear and throat infections. First Nations have higher infant death rates, and being exposed to tobacco smoke is a major risk factor for crib death or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Third-hand smoke is the smoke that stays on surfaces like clothes, walls, carpets, and furniture. Babies and young children are more at risk of harm from third-hand smoke because they breathe faster and crawl on floors. They also like to explore everything with their hands and put things into their mouths.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious lung disease linked to smoking. It’s twice as common among Indigenous people as the general Canadian population.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among First Nations people, and the most likely cause of lung cancer is smoking.
COVID-19 is an illness that can cause people to have mild to severe lung problems. If you get
COVID-19, smoking and vaping can put you at higher risk of getting very sick.
Quitting or cutting back on using commercial tobacco is one of the most important things you can do for your health and your family’s health. The values below are based on the Seven Grandfather Teachings. This traditional Indigenous wisdom can help you make changes towards your healthy future:
For more information and support to quit using commercial tobacco, go to:
Dobrescu, A., Bhandari, A., Sutherland, G. & Dinh T. (2017).
The Costs of Tobacco Use in Canada, 2012. The Conference Board of Canada. Report.
Koziel, Jakob. (2020).
Trends in e-cigarette use among Albertan youth (2014-2017). [PowerPoint slides]. Addiction and Mental Health Lab Injury Prevention Centre. University of Alberta.
Current as of: December 16, 2020
Author: Tobacco Reduction Program, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.