Healthy Living in the North

Smoking or chewing tobacco: have you had the talk?

Whether you use tobacco or not, you probably don’t want your kids to start smoking or chewing tobacco. Let your kids know how you feel about tobacco and make an emotional appeal to help them avoid becoming addicted.

If young people can make it to their nineteenth birthday without becoming tobacco users, then chances are they will never be one. However, youth can face pressure to use tobacco from a variety of sources as they grow into adulthood.

We all know that peer pressure is a significant source of that pressure, but what about other sources?  

Parents and other role models can counter these influences. Don’t assume that kids have the skills to resist peer pressure. You can help kids develop refusal skills to avoid tobacco and the addiction that can develop after one or two cigarettes. 

January 20-26 is National Non-Smoking Week. Let’s work together to influence our youth to live a healthy life.

For more information, visit:


In this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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Remembering the importance of immunizations

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)

A dad holding his smiling daughter.

Did you know that in this past century, in Canada, more lives have been saved due to immunizations than any other public health initiative? Even with this amazing fact, many people remain under- or un-immunized, and a recent B.C. incident highlights the risks posed by vaccine preventable diseases (VPD). The Okanagan experienced a meningitis outbreak last fall, with several people becoming ill. Sadly, there was one case where meningococcal disease contributed to death.

Vaccines work

Immunizations, also known as vaccinations, help to protect you from getting a VPD. When you get vaccinated, you also help to protect others by interfering with a germ’s ability to spread (this effect is called herd or community immunity). It’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch an infectious disease.

Consider what happens in the absence of vaccinations. Unvaccinated children contract vaccine preventable illnesses and diseases at higher rates than vaccinated children. Varicella (chicken pox) rates can be up to nine times higher, measles up to 35 times higher, and pertussis (whooping cough) up to between six and 28 times higher! Further, VPDs are more severe in infants and younger children. Delayed immunizations also increase the duration that a child is vulnerable to VPDs.

Northern Health is working to improve vaccination rates

Northern Health manages, allocates, and distributes $6 million dollars’ worth of publicly funded vaccine each year within the northern region, ensuring that vaccines are available to those who need them, when they need them. Northern Health is also conducting a quality improvement study to determine if an automated telephone message is a feasible and useful reminder for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations.

In other efforts, Northern Health is embarking on a childhood immunization strategy to ensure that all two-year-olds are fully caught up. This is accomplished by closely monitoring vaccination rates, increasing the promotion of immunizations, and improving access to vaccination services. Northern Health intends to increase the average immunization rate of 70%, to 75% next year, 85% by 2021, and 90% by 2023.

What you can do

It’s really simple: get vaccinated. Influenza season is here and most pharmacies and public health facilities offer flu shots. Look for locations via ImmunizeBC’s Flu Clinic locator website.

Other vaccines you might need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans, but also on those you have close contact with (think of infants under six months of age, the elderly, as well as people with depressed immune systems). What vaccines you had as a child is also a consideration. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccines you need. Finally, get your children vaccinated according to BC’s recommended vaccination schedule.

More information about immunizations

Please refer to the following excellent Canadian-based web resources:

Mike Gagel

About Mike Gagel

Hailing from Vancouver, Mike and his family moved to Prince George in the summer of 2013. Mike joined Northern Health in March 2017 and works as the Regional Manager for Communicable Disease. Mike has worked in healthcare for twenty years in various roles such as Oncology Nurse (BC Cancer), Clinical Research Nurse (UBC Dermatology), Regional Manager (Vancouver Coastal), and consultant Web Officer (PHSA). He also worked as a technology director with the BC School Trustees Association before joining Northern Health. Outside work, Mike is a volunteer with Scouts Canada, and as a board member with both the Prince George Public Library and the BC Library Trustees Association.

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January 20-26 is National Non-Smoking Week!

No smoking emojis

Did you know most tobacco users want to quit? Or that smoking tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death? Yikes! This week, let’s work on helping to prevent young people from starting to smoke or chew tobacco and helping the tobacco users in your life quit so we can protect everyone from the harms of second- and third-hand smoke.

There are free provincial resources to help people quit – they can quit for a day and work towards a long term quit plan! Interested? Here’s three quitting resources you should check out now.

Three resources to quit smoking today:

  • QuitNow: get free counselling and support by visiting QuitNow or calling 1 877-455-2233. They even text! Text QUITNOW to 654321.
  • Free quitting products through the BC Smoking Cessation Program: all British Columbians can access FREE Nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, or inhalers through the BC Smoking Cessation Program to help reduce cravings while trying to quit. Talk to your pharmacist. You may be eligible for help to buy smoking cessation medications such as Varenicline (Champix) or Bupropion (Zyban).
  • Make a plan and find a friend: if you smoke, plan to quit; if you don’t smoke, help a tobacco user quit! 

In this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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Award of Merit for NH Stop Stigma campaign

Tamara Reichert accepting an Award of Excellence at the IABC Awards.

It’s the perfect day for a #ThrowbackThursday to when NH won an Award of Merit in issues management and crisis communication from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) for our “Stop Stigma. Save Lives.” campaign!

Tamara Reichert, communications advisor, pictured, accepted the award on NH’s behalf at the IABC World Conference in Montreal earlier this year. The campaign aimed at reducing stigma against people who use drugs, in response to the provincial public health emergency around overdose-related deaths in BC last year.

Stigma against people who use drugs results in discrimination, impacts health, and contributes to overdoses. By sharing the stories of the 12 people with firsthand or family experiences of drug use, our goal was to focus on building compassion, encouraging empathy, and creating awareness that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Kudos to everyone who worked on this project and the NH Anti-Stigma Opioid Response team! See our videos and learn more about the project on our website here: https://www.northernhealth.ca/health-topics/stigma

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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Five things you can do to help prevent the flu!

Prevent the flu by looking after your health! Getting outside helps me find wellness in the winter. Pictured: my friend and I skiing at Murray Ridge Ski Hill in Fort St. James.

As a communications advisor for the Northern Health, influenza (the flu) becomes a big part of my day-to-day work when the winter season begins. It’s my job to help get important flu messages out to the right people, on the right channels, at the right time.

In preparation for influenza season, every fall I work closely with my public health and primary care colleagues to make sure Northerners know where and when they can get their flu shot and what they can do to prevent getting the flu and spreading it. We also work together to share why it’s important to get your vaccination (hint: it has to do with protecting the vulnerable).

Here are five things you can do to help prevent the flu:   

  1. Getting your flu shot isn’t just about you – it’s about protecting those around you. Sure, getting a flu shot can be temporarily uncomfortable, but for those who are sick, immune compromised, or elderly, getting the flu isn’t just uncomfortable but potentially deadly! Getting your flu shot protects them and yourself.
  2. When visiting a Northern Health facility, make sure you’ve had your flu shot or wear a mask. I recently had a family member staying at UHNBC and I made sure to remind my family members to only visit if they had had their flu shot or wore a mask. Staff and physicians are asked to report their choice.
  3. Wash your hands! Having good hand hygiene during flu season is one of the best ways to prevent getting and spreading the flu. Get in the habit of washing your hands before eating, touching your face, or after touching common surfaces (hello elevator buttons!). Need a refresher on your technique? Check out this guide.
  4. Getting your flu shot can be easy and convenient. Did you know that in many communities you can get your flu shot at your local pharmacy? For me, this was a great option when I missed getting my flu shot at work. Many pharmacies are open after work hours (great for those of us who work regular office hours) and don’t require any appointments. You can find a flu shot provider at ImmunizeBC.ca.
  5. Stop the flu by staying healthy. This time of year can be busy both professionally and personally for many people. For me, I find it’s a time when I really need to pay attention to my physical and mental wellness so I don’t get run down. Doing activities I enjoy, incorporating wellness at work, and making sure I’m sleeping enough all help. 

So there it is! Five things I want you to remember when it comes to flu:

  1. Get your flu shot to protect yourself and those around you.
  2. Make sure you’ve had a flu shot or wear a mask when visiting hospitals.
  3. Wash your hands!
  4. Find a flu shot clinic that’s convenient for you.
  5. Stop the flu by looking after your health!
Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Food Security, Part 3: A call to action

All British Columbians have the right to access a healthy diet in ways that are right for them. In two previous blog posts, I highlighted  household food insecurity and the Food Costing in BC report. With the knowledge that 17% of households in Northern BC are food insecure, what are our next steps?

It is important to mention that decreasing household food insecurity isn’t about decreasing the cost of food. This is because we also must ensure that our food system is healthy and sustainable. Part of a just food system is making sure growers and producers are paid a fair wage – which is reflected in the cost of food.

Community food security

There is a lot of wonderful food systems work happening in Northern communities that focuses on food growing, preparation, and eating. This focus on improving the food system works to increase community food security, which is the ability to access a healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate diet, while maintaining a sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Community food security programs can:

Household Food Insecurity: An income-based issue

However, while community food programs offer a lot of value, household food insecurity is an income-based issue that needs income-based solutions. The root cause of household food insecurity isn’t the price of food or distance to grocery stores. It’s also not lack of food skills or education; it’s that some households do not have enough income to purchase food. Community food programs do not address income deficits directly. According to local community advocate Stacey Tyers,

Food programs that focus on local and sustainable agriculture, (e.g. community gardens) are very important for the health and wellbeing of a community. However, without also addressing income, many community members still cannot afford to put food on the table.”

Changing the situation for those who struggle to meet their basic needs must begin with a focus on income. Exploring income based solutions is the most effective way to decrease household food insecurity:

Ultimately, no person should have to worry about getting enough food. BC would benefit from income based solutions that raise the income of fixed wage and low income earners, so that all British Columbians can have their basic needs met. Without addressing income, household food insecurity will remain a concern in our communities,” says Stacey.

Income based policy has been shown to work:

  • The risk of household food insecurity drops by 50% once low income adults reach the age of 65 and become eligible for seniors’ pension programs (a form of guaranteed income)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador invested in poverty reduction work, which saw a reduction in household food insecurity among social assistance recipients

Access to food is a human right – all Northerners should have their basic needs met. The health impacts of food insecurity go far beyond individual and household food patterns, or food and lifestyle “choices”. Household food insecurity is closely linked to income, and factors such as low income and unpredictable employment more deeply impact health than food choice itself.

Individuals, communities, and governments all have a role to play in making BC more food secure.

Wondering how you can get involved?

Check out the first two blogs of this series:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is experienced in working with groups across the lifecycle, within BC and internationally, to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking, and travelling. She loves exploring the North!

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Healthy relationships through harm reduction

reanne and her son riding horses.I grew up in the North, and I feel blessed to be able to live and practice in my hometown of Quesnel. Guiding my work, I have two strong influences from my childhood: medicine and ranching. On my mother’s side I come from several generations of nurses and doctors; my father’s family were pioneers and moved to this community 100 years ago.

Growing up as a ranch kid helped me to develop a strong belief that all living things have value and worth. This has helped me to recognize that our own advancement and success is based on how we honour relationships in our lives, and for me growing up, these were family and cattle.

When I was asked to write an article about my work in harm reduction and how it relates to healthy relationships, I had to sit with it for several days. Before my current role, I worked as a generalist public health nurse for 13 years, and part of my role was as the local street nurse, but for some reason, in my mind, I couldn’t get the two to connect. The more I thought about it though, the more I began to realize the reason for my difficulty was that these two concepts are inseparable. From my experience, it would be extremely difficult to apply the principles of harm reduction within health care without considering the importance of healthy, trusting relationships.

Harm reduction involving drugs and people who use drugs is a social justice movement that strives to uphold basic human rights. It means believing in, respecting, and supporting people who use drugs, whether abstinence is their goal or not. This kind of harm reduction is supported by evidence based research, and proven to be effective in reducing risks and ultimately reducing the burden on the health care system.

A good example of this method of harm reduction is the distribution of harm reduction supplies to people who use drugs. Providing clean, sterile equipment has also shown to reduce new infections of HIV and Hepatitis C within our communities.

Healthy Relationships

Another benefit of distributing harm reduction supplies to clients, is the opportunity for service providers to develop meaningful relationships with the client; these relationships can ultimately lead to greater access to health care. We know that when people engage in services where they feel supported and accepted by staff, they are more likely to make positive changes and further access supports.

Relationship building is at the core of harm reduction work. When you show up for people and allow them to be seen and heard, they feel valued and worthy. This is so important within a demographic of individuals who often feel marginalized and ostracized in our communities.

This is a mutually beneficial relationship, as we, the service provider, can ask clients questions in order to gain a greater understanding of the barriers and challenges they face, and better understand the world they live in. This connection allows staff to hear real, lived experiences that can ultimately help them implement change.

The caring bonds and healthy connections created through harm reduction is lifesaving for clients. Over the past few years, the landscape of working with people who use drugs has changed drastically. In the past, we worried about keeping people safe, preventing HIV transmission, and other harms related to drug use; now, we’re worrying about keeping people alive.

In order for clients to engage in our services, receive education on how to safely use drugs, take harm reduction steps towards wellness, and to enter into treatment (if that is what they choose), they must be with us. It is well known that the number of people dying across the province due to unintentional illicit drug overdoses has continued to rise in 2017, despite exceptional work on the frontlines.

Reducing Stigma and Judgment

In today’s society, it’s important to use a thoughtful approach and be compassionate with our messaging. Stigma and judgment towards people who use drugs creates a climate where people do not feel safe to share experiences, and in turn, forces them to isolate themselves. Working closely with harm reduction has shown me how vast and diverse this population is in our communities.

Reducing stigma and judgment in our communities takes a collaborative approach. Northern Health has championed anti-stigma work in B.C. as a part of our overdose prevention strategy. You can make a difference by changing the conversation:

  • Describe peers as individuals (i.e. “person with a substance use disorder” vs “drug user”).
  • Decide not to share or engage in fear-based messaging about overdoses and drug use on social media.
  • Be mindful of how you talk about people who use drugs; choose not to use discriminating language like “user,” “junkie,” or “addict.”

These small steps can work to help eliminate the feelings of isolation and judgment.

Harm reduction in the context of substance use is about advocacy and caring. It is understanding that people use drugs for a variety of reasons, and many will never become dependent or deal with an addiction. Above all, harm reduction services exist to support everyone in staying as safe and healthy as possible – and that’s what we’re all after: staying safe, healthy, and happy. Together.

About Reanne Sanford

Reanne is the Regional Nursing Lead for Harm Reduction, and is based in Quesnel.

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World AIDS Day 2018: Know your status

A hand holding a small red AIDS ribbon.I distinctly remember learning about HIV and AIDS back in 1992 during my grade 7 Family Life class (no need to do the math to calculate how old that makes me!). AIDS was absolutely terrifying to this naïve 12 year old. I clearly recall a few things:

  1. HIV could not be transmitted through every day contact like a handshake, hug, or even from using the same toilet seat.
  2. HIV was transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as through unprotected sex or the use of intravenous drugs.
  3. HIV turned into AIDS, which then led to illness and certain death.

Since taking on my new role, which focuses heavily on HIV, I’ve been brushing up on the facts related to HIV and AIDS. I’m really proud of my teacher for clearly articulating that HIV isn’t easily transmitted. I think that having this understanding prevented me from being unnecessarily afraid of people living with HIV. She also taught the importance of protected sex and not sharing needles, which is still absolutely key in preventing the spread of HIV. However, some things have changed and it’s super exciting!

The facts about HIV

Advances in testing and treatment have transformed the prognosis for people living with HIV. Did you know that:

  • HIV is now considered a chronic illness?
  • Treatment, for some, can consist of only one pill per day?
  • People can live their entire lives with HIV and not ever develop AIDS?
  • A person with HIV has every chance now to live almost as long as someone who does not carry the virus?

However, these facts are only true for people who are aware of their HIV status and are actively participating in treatment.

Know your status

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status,” encouraging all of us to know our HIV status. The latest UNAIDS Report shows that between 10-20% of people do not know they are infected with HIV. If a person isn’t aware that they have HIV, they will not be receiving the treatment that they need to allow them to live a long, healthy life and they may not be taking the necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of the virus to others. Alternately, once a person knows they have HIV, they can access treatment and psychosocial supports to suppress the virus in their body and employ the necessary measures to avoid passing HIV on to their loved ones.

When was the last time you were tested for HIV?

I was tested last year as part of prenatal screening to ensure that, had I been infected, transmission to my baby could be avoided. My mom was tested this year because her doctor offers testing to everyone between 18-70 years of age, at least every 5 years. My good friend recently asked to be tested before beginning a sexual relationship with a new partner.

It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our health, and the health of our communities, by knowing our own HIV status. If you haven’t been tested recently, what are you waiting for? It’s a simple blood test that can make a world of difference. To get tested, ask your physician or nurse practitioner to order the lab work for you. For other ways to access HIV testing, or to learn more about the virus and how it can be transmitted, visit www.hiv101.ca.

I’m amazed at how far HIV research has come since those days of grade 7 Family Life. However, we still have a long way to go in reducing the stigma associated with HIV and eradicating the virus all together, and the first step is normalizing getting tested for HIV.

My son will be 12 in 2030, which is likely when he will take Family Life like I did. My hope is, by that point in time, there won’t be a module on HIV and AIDS because the ongoing progress on prevention and treatment will have been successful in completely eradicating the virus.

Ashley Stoppler

About Ashley Stoppler

Born and raised in Prince George, Ashley is a two-time UNBC graduate. She has worked for Northern Health since 2004 and has held nine positions across the spectrum of health care, ranging from Maternity to Long Term Care, and many areas in between. She’s recently moved into a strategic position with the Regional Chronic Diseases Program, focusing on HIV, Hepatitis C, Chronic Pain and Arthritis. Ashley is active in her community, sitting on the board on the YMCA of Northern BC and teaching yoga in her “spare time.” She also likes to channel her inner Martha Stewart at the sewing machine and in the kitchen, but what brings her the most joy in life is the time she gets to spend adventuring with her fiancé, infant son, and toddler dog.

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Food Security, Part 2: Food Costing in BC

How much does it cost for you to put food on your table? Your weekly grocery bill may come to mind, as well as how and where you get your food. But do you also factor in costs like getting to the grocery store?

The cost of a basic, healthy dietFood costing report cover.

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s latest food costing report was just released. This report shows how much food costs, as well as how much money is required to purchase a basic, healthy diet. The new report shows that:

  • Food costs have been rising across BC.
  • In northern BC, the average price of a basic, healthy diet is the highest it’s ever been: $1038 per month (for a reference family of four).

Food costs: only part of the story in the north

The true cost of eating, however, involves more than just food prices.

To learn more, I spoke with two community advocates: Stacey Tyers, from Terrace, and Liza Haldane, from Laxgalts’ap, in the Nisga’a valley.

Stacey points out that families in many small northern communities are faced with extra expenses because of long distances to grocery stores. This is the case in Laxgalts’ap, where travel to grocery stores can profoundly impact cost of food.

“Laxgalts’ap is over 300km round trip from the nearest grocery store, so cost of gas is significant,” says Liza. “That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a car.” Those who don’t have a vehicle must pay for a ride, and it can cost up to $200 return – on top of the grocery bill.

The north is also more vulnerable to bad weather and power outages, which can cause food losses.

“Imagine stocking your freezer full of food for the winter, and losing it all when the power goes out,” says Stacey. For many, this would be devastating.

Additional barriers to food access

Other barriers to food access exist for northern families:

  • Food travels long distances to reach northern stores – this can impact food quality and quantity.
  • Bad weather and road closures can affect food access and availability.
  • Shorter growing seasons limit the availability of locally grown foods.
  • Hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering wild foods requires access to land, time, equipment, fuel, and specialized skills.

Access to nutritious cultural foods can be challenging as well, such as fish.

“If you don’t have a boat or money for equipment, it can be hard to access this resource. There are also new limitations on food fishing,” Liza points out. As a result, she feels that “access to food [has become] a privilege… It’s very alarming.”

Rising food costs in BC: those who are hardest hit

In an earlier story, I raised the topic of household food insecurity (HFI), which is when a household worries about, or does not have enough, money to purchase food. HFI and income are closely linked, so increases in food costs have the biggest impact on fixed and low-income households. According to Stacey, “those who have low incomes will be the hardest hit by rising food prices.”

Households who are on a fixed income (e.g. social assistance) and those earning minimum wage spend significantly more of their budget on food compared to median wage earners. And this amount does not include travel to grocery stores. With food costs on the rise, and social assistance and minimum wage set below the living wage, limited food budgets grow even tighter.

Next steps for BC

Northerners are resilient, but we experience additional costs, realities, and barriers to accessing food. HFI is a serious public health issue in the north. The Food Costing in BC report is one advocacy tool – what else is being done?

Stay tuned for my last story in this series, Food security: a call to action

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is experienced in working with groups across the lifecycle, within BC and internationally, to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking, and travelling. She loves exploring the North!

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Supporting Conversation, Not Consumption

Cannabis is now legal for adults to use in Canada. No matter which side of this change you stand, the quest for knowledge, debate, and conversation about this subject is impressive. People are looking for accurate information to make informed choices, creating a great window of opportunity for individuals, families, organizations, schools, and communities to consider their substance use practices, policies, prevention strategies, and goals. It’s a great time to consider ways to promote and protect health from substance use harms.cannabis legalization banner

Public health experts across the country (including Northern Health’s medical health officers) support legalization and regulation of non-medical cannabis. While we recognize that there are risks attached to this, we believe there are ways to mitigate the risks and that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Some of the expected benefits to legalization through a public health approach include:

  • Decreased use of cannabis among youth.
  • Safer products with known potency.
  • Increased control over advertising and distribution.
  • Reduced stigma.
  • Reduced enforcement costs.

Some key points to know:

  • Cannabis is not a benign substance. The only way to be risk-free is not to use.
  • There are lower and higher risk ways to use cannabis.
  • Cannabis affects people differently, and individuals should consider their own situation before consuming.
  • Delay use as long as possible – youth are at increased risk to experience harm from cannabis.
  • You may be at increased risk if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have personal or family history of psychosis or substance use problems.
  • If you are using cannabis and are in a higher risk bracket, you should consult your local health care team to consider your options for reducing potential harm.
  • Regular habitual use can cause psychological and physical dependence.
  • Cannabis impairs your ability to drive a car. Visit Don’t Drive High for more info.
  • Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, applied to the skin, or ingested in food or drinks. Different methods of consumption carry different risks just like different potency and different products.
    • Smoking cannabis can harm your lungs – like smoking tobacco.
    • Ingesting cannabis through food has delayed response – so be aware and don’t take more thinking it hasn’t had an effect.
    • Edibles and topical are not legal in Canada at this time.
  • There remains a lot of unknowns with cannabis use and its effects.

More resources:

  • Get Cannabis Clarity – information on what’s legal, health information, safe communities, safe kids, safe roads, legislation.
  • Canadian Centre on Substance Use – information on youth substance prevention, health effects, and reports.
  • Here to Help BC – mental health and substance use information, screening tools, and self-help resources.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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