Tobacco Use

A Culturally-Relevant Perspective on This Issue


Tobacco has traditionally been used in many First Nations ceremonies, rituals, and medicines [1]. The traditional uses of tobacco are not problematic, however recreational use and misuse of tobacco is addictive, harmful, and has been associated with numerous health issues, such as lung cancer, heart diseases, and strokes [2]. Smoking is very prevalent among the Aboriginal population, with the smoking rate in many Aboriginal communities almost double the Canadian rate. Smoking during pregnancy has harmful health effects on the mother as well as on the baby, including preterm birth, low birth weight, impaired physical and intellectual development, behavioural changes, asthma, and other respiratory infections [3-9]. Data on maternal smoking among Aboriginal people are lacking, however, a recent study in Manitoba found that significantly more Aboriginal mothers reported smoking during pregnancy compared to non-Aboriginal mothers (61% versus 26%) [10].

First Nations

The smoking rates of First Nations people seem to be decreasing, however, the smoking rate is about three times that of the Canadian rate [11]. Recent statistics show that approximately 60% of the First Nations adults (aged 18-34) interviewed reported smoking. Teenage smoking is also a major health problem, with approximately 50% of First Nations people having started smoking between the ages of 13 and 16 years [1].


The smoking rate among the Métis has been declining over the years and the current prevalence of daily smokers is 31%. This rate has decreased by 6% since 2001 [12]. Data from 2001 indicate a decrease in smoking prevalence in older Métis populations: 42% of 25-44 year olds were daily smokers compared to 34% of 45-64 year oldss and 24% of seniors (65 years and older). 


The Inuit people have the highest smoking rate among Aboriginal groups, with a smoking prevalence of 72% [1]. In Labrador, the smoking prevalence among Inuit is 65% for both sexes (67% for women and 63% for men) [13]. The prevalence of teenage (aged 12-19) smoking is also exceptionally high among Inuit people, with almost half (46%) of teens initiating smoking at age 14 or younger. In Nunavut, the teenage smoking rate in is 2.5 times the Canadian rate: 51% of Inuit teenage girls smoke compared to 10% of teenage girls in the general population [14].