The Aboriginal Tobacco Strategy of British Columbia received $328,000 from the province this year to help Aboriginal people kick the smoking habit. In its third year, the strategy attempts to mobilize Aboriginal communities to protect members from abusing tobacco products.
The strategy, as part of the Ministry of Health's wider BC tobacco strategy, is based on community efforts to curb recreational tobacco use, including detoxification programs and retreats. It makes available medical interventions while taking into account the traditional and cultural values of individuals.
"It's about empowering our people, not preaching to them," said Deborah Schwartz of the Aboriginal Tobacco Strategy. "It's also an opportunity to educate our people who aren't familiar with the traditional uses of tobacco."
A key component to the success of the strategy is the inclusion of Elders in sessions offered by schools, community and support groups and information sessions. There they can re-introduce people to the traditional uses of tobacco.
Tobacco misuse is described in the strategy as the non-traditional use of commercial tobacco. This includes smoking cigars, cigarettes, pipes and the use of snuff or chewing tobacco. The strategy reports that more than 55,000, or about 50 per cent, of Aboriginal people in British Columbia misuse tobacco products, eight per cent of all smokers in the province.
Many Aboriginal cultural groups in B.C. do not have traditions using tobacco for ceremonial purposes, though in recent years many people have adopted its use for recreation.
The integration of tobacco education and reduction programs into Aboriginal pre-employment and pregnancy outreach programs is a cost effective and efficient way to reach remote communities that may otherwise not have any resources at all, the ministry reports.
Increasing the knowledge base about non-Aboriginal tobacco reduction services by distributing information about networking and various treatment options available to Aboriginal communities is one of the goals for the ministry. The reverse is also happening through shared information about Aboriginal services already in effect with the ministry.
There is also work being done in the area of training and support for Aboriginal service providers and health care workers, which doubles the benefit for communities participating in the strategy, the ministry reports.
Participants in Aboriginal Tobacco Strategy programs believe that each community must initiate its own culturally appropriate ways of dealing with this health issue, reads a booklet released by the ministry. Work is being done to increase cross-cultural relations by adapting current resources to suit specific Aboriginal culture and needs.
It is also reported that the representatives of the ministry and Aboriginal communities believe that it's possible to maintain respect for the traditional use of tobacco while reducing or eliminating the recreational use by Native people.