Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: World No Tobacco Day

A picture of the sun in the sky with the headline World No Tobacco Day and the subheading the sun will still shine tomorrow

Will this sunrise be the one that sees you quit tobacco?

Last year, when writing about World No Tobacco Day, I challenged you to drop the “World” and make it “Your No Tobacco Day” so that you knew exactly who’s in charge of quitting tobacco products.

I’m happy to report that a friend, and a reader of this blog, took up that challenge and successfully quit. My heart is with my friend’s family, with hopes that they may continue to live smoke free for life.

Quitting tobacco is the most difficult of tasks. There are many theories surrounding addiction. Some are brain based, centered on the mind or psyche. Some suggest that vulnerable individuals are more likely to become addicted than “normal” people. Some say we’re all addicted to something. Maybe it’s work, cleanliness, or food. Perhaps it’s control, the internet, or your own beliefs. Some research suggests there is an empty space deep within each of us that needs filling. An abyss, if you like. Others suggest that we self-medicate to reduce the pain of a stressful world.

Personally, I feel that all of these things ring true to some degree and that if you have to be addicted to something, make that one addiction something positive, like exercise. Am I correct? I don’t think it matters.

At an individual level, there is only you and the struggle you face to be free of that which harms you. There is help out there, like nicotine replacement, and informed evidence suggests that using that help improves your chances of quitting.

But, regardless of the help, the battle is yours.

Sure it’s World No Tobacco Day on May 31, but really its world with a small ”w”, your world. I hope you take up the challenge and good luck to you.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas

The welcome to Las Vegas sign is an invitation for many people to release their inhibitions.

For many, this sign is an invitation to release their inhibitions.

I went to Vegas with some friends last year and it was actually pretty good (which is a Scot’s way of saying awesome!). We took in many great shows and even saw the Chieftains, who are still going strong after almost 40 years! Our trip wasn’t quite like the movie The Hangover, but we had our moments. It was a brilliant time.

Vegas is glitz to the extreme. But underneath that shine is a dark side that can’t be ignored. It’s called “Sin City” for a reason – actually several reasons: gambling, drugs and alcohol, and sex – which Vegas is riddled with. Whether you’re going to Vegas or any other exciting destination, it’s often easy for people to slip into some bad habits while on vacation. After my Vegas vacation, I started thinking about the dangers of the “darker sides” of vacations, like slipping back into tobacco addictions, or bringing a new addiction home. So, here are some helpful tips for avoiding some of the things that give Vegas its rather scandalous reputation, but these tips are really relevant to any vacation. No matter where you go, keep in mind that you’ll be going home soon. Each topic is linked to helpful resources for your reference.

Gambling – The slot machines and other games are unavoidable. From the time you check into your room they’re everywhere. Remember, gambling is an addiction. Don’t go overboard. Consider setting a budget ahead of time and stick to it. I managed to stick to about $30.

Drugs and alcohol – Both addictive items are plentiful on many vacations and will drain your bank account, as well as that of your family and friends in a hurry if either becomes a problem. This includes tobacco use; a vacation from the snow doesn’t have to mean a vacation from quitting.

Sex – Some people often think being on vacation is the perfect time to loosen their inhibitions. But sexually transmitted infections don’t take vacations. Do yourself a favour and get educated on the dangers of unsafe sex.

There are many great events that happen in Vegas; I found the fountains at Bellagio to be magical, and luckily I avoided all of the dangers above. Some of these events should, no doubt, stay in Vegas. You don’t want to bring home a whopping credit card bill, a reemergence of an old addiction, or something more novel, like a STI. Don’t forget, these tips extend beyond Vegas to whatever sunny destination you might be visiting during the snowy season.

Happy winter vacation.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


Helping with change, one stage at a time

Stages of change

Stages of change

In my twenties, I worked in a bar. It was an upscale place near the Winnipeg Stock Exchange. A broker who worked there – we’ll call him “W” – was a regular customer at the bar. He would come in at 10:30 in the morning for a double Manhattan and called it his breakfast. At lunch he would be back for another. At around four he would have two or three more to “round out the day.”

One afternoon W’s wife came into the bar. She told us he was suffering from a serious illness and his doctor had told him to quit drinking, but she was afraid he wouldn’t. Later in the day, I spoke to him when he came in. He said he had never thought his drinking was a problem until the doctor told him he was in danger, and even then, he wasn’t so sure. He thought it was only an issue because of his illness. He convinced himself that if he drank a little bit less he would be okay, so he cut down to singles instead of doubles and limited himself to three drinks a day. This became his new routine. Some months later his health took a turn for the worse and he was away for awhile. When he came back to the bar weeks later he switched to coffee, no booze.

I often thought of W years later when I began working with people with problems related to substance use. Looking back, I can see the stages of change in what he was going through. When I met him, he was precontemplative, sure he was okay and didn’t really have a problem. The illness was a crisis that moved him to consider that there was a problem. Still, he was so tied to his drinking that he didn’t want to think it was as serious as it was. His relationship with alcohol skewed his contemplative stage to justify staying with his routine. He developed a plan, put it into action and came to believe he had dealt with the problem. His life went on as before with a reduction in the amount that he drank, and he returned to a precontemplative state until there was another crisis that he could not ignore.

When we try to help people, we need to get a clear idea of where the person is, because for each stage, we can help in a different way. The precontemplative person can be helped by a reality check to shed some light on what’s really going on. The contemplative person needs some help to make sure they are seeing things accurately and realistically, not colored through the lens of their fears and desires. The planning stage needs some problem solving support and some detail work to make sure the plan is doable and complete. The action stage needs support to help with adjusting to new ways of being. The maintenance stage is a time to reflect and see the positives so that the person does not relapse and go back to old ways. People often go through the cycle many times before really getting to the heart of their problems and making significant and successful changes. With “W” it was alcohol but the pattern holds for tobacco, drugs and for other behaviors as well.

People change when they see a need to do so, when the change is a move to something better and when they can see it as such. The more you can help people work through their beliefs about what change is necessary, what that change will be like, how to make the change, how to adjust to the change, to maintain new ways of being and to celebrate success, the more likely the changes are to take hold and survive.

Have you ever helped someone through the stages of changes as they coped with a difficult issue or addiction?

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.