Healthy Living in the North

Wildfire smoke: many tobacco users finding it hard to breathe!

fire fighter walking by forrest fire

Tobacco users may find that wildfire smoke is causing severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and increased mucous production.

I spoke with a friend who smokes cigarettes earlier this week and she said that she wasn’t able to leave the house over the weekend due to the forest fire smoke in the air.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of particles and gas containing hundreds of chemicals, and tobacco users may find that wildfire smoke is causing severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and increased mucous production.

Is it a preview of what lies ahead?

If you smoke cigarettes or cigars, the toxins in tobacco smoke may be already causing severe lung irritation and the onset of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Symptoms of COPD occur when the lungs and airways lose their elasticity, the walls between air sacs are destroyed, the airways thicken and become swollen and more mucous is produced.

During times of poor air quality such as wild fire smoke, some smokers find it very hard to breathe because they already have lung disease. They may not be aware that they have COPD. Although the fires will soon be extinguished, the progression of COPD continues if tobacco users don’t quit.

In the years ahead, smokers may experience shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and increased mucous production every day, even when the air quality is good.

The discomfort that my friend has been experiencing is helping her make a quit plan. She doesn’t want to feel like that again!

If you are concerned about your health or the health of others, there are resources to help quit using tobacco.

For help quitting smoking visit quitnow.ca or call 1-877-455-2233.

Access information and FREE nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers through the BC Smoking Cessation Program. Visit your pharmacy to access these products. You may be eligible for assistance to purchase smoking cessation medications.

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.

Share

It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

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!

Share

Take the clue… don’t do the chew!

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Thlittle boy up for bat baseballis is the slogan that a little leaguer from Darien, Connecticut submitted to win a spit tobacco education program slogan contest. It was part of an awareness campaign to help young people avoid the harmful effects of spit tobacco that causes oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and nicotine addiction.

In our northern BC region, the use of smokeless/chewing tobacco is most prevalent in young men; they often start using these products when they are teens and involved in team sports. Once they are hooked, it’s hard to stop.

Although there are fewer people smoking cigarettes in Canada, the sales of smokeless tobacco have remained relatively unchanged over the last 15 years.

Tobacco companies target young people with messages to promote their products and often associate spit tobacco with sports. They have spent millions of dollars per year to promote their products to teen boys to make them believe they cannot be real men unless they chew.boy leaning against fence

We can help break the association of spit tobacco with sports such as baseball and hockey. Major league baseball recognizes health risks of chewing tobacco and almost half of their stadiums are now tobacco free. Rogers Centre in Toronto is next!

Both of my grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, who live in Prince George, are playing baseball this season and I am happy that I have not observed the use of spit tobacco on the field or in the stands.

Let’s “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park!”


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.

 

Share

Podcasters, meteorologists, physiotherapists, wildfire fighters, and more: The many faces of healthy lungs!

Magazine cover with physiotherapy student and pulmonary rehabilitation client.

Healthy lungs take centre stage in the latest issue of Healthier You magazine!

In reading through the latest issue of Healthier You, it becomes clear that respiratory health is a significant issue in northern B.C.

What is also clear, however, is just how many diverse programs, people, communities, and partners are coming together to better understand and take action on this issue. We can all play a role in promoting health, protecting healthy environments, and preventing lung disease!

Take a look through the latest issue of the magazine online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

Here are just a few of the healthy lung stories you can read in Healthier You magazine:

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

Share

World No Tobacco Day: Tobacco – a threat to development

WHO graphic

This year, for World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization has chosen the theme: “Tobacco – A Threat to Development.”

I grew up in southern Ontario near the “tobacco belt” of Norfolk and Elgin counties. I remember the green buildings with red roofs throughout the area: the kilns where tobacco was hung to dry. Many prosperous farms existed in this sandy- and silt-loam soil.

In recent years, the production of tobacco in this area has decreased thanks to the decline of tobacco use* in Canada and the pressure on farmers to stop producing. Farmers are now growing products such as lavender, peanuts, and ginseng and some have started wineries, poultry farms, and apiaries.

What does tobacco production look like on the global stage?

This year, for World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization has chosen the theme: “Tobacco – A Threat to Development.” How is tobacco a threat to development?

Worldwide, the production of tobacco requires large amounts of pesticides and fertilizer that can pollute water supplies. Like in my home counties, the land used for tobacco could grow food instead of tobacco, a product that kills half of those who use it. Without protective clothing that many of us take for granted, workers are exposed to nicotine and harmful pesticides labouring in tobacco fields. In many countries, these labourers are children.

Locally, regionally, and nationally, we need to develop strategies to prioritize tobacco control and reduction. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in both Canada and worldwide and kills half of the people who use it.

Tobacco reduction works in communities to prevent the initiation of smoking among young people, protects the public from second-hand smoke in community settings, and increases tobacco cessation and tobacco reduction efforts within primary care settings, while recognizing and valuing traditional tobacco use through cultural and ceremonial use.

World No Tobacco Day reminds us that we can work together to prevent children from starting to use tobacco, protect everyone from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke in both indoor and outdoor spaces, and encourage tobacco users to stop using these products.

Do you know someone who smokes? Encourage them to check out QuitNow.ca and access free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, or inhalers through the BC Smoking Cessation Program.


*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.

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.

Share

What is World No Tobacco Day?

WHO infographic

World No Tobacco Day is an opportunity to talk globally, nationally, provincially, and within our own communities about reducing commercial tobacco use.

What is World No Tobacco Day? It’s an opportunity to talk globally, nationally, provincially, and within our own communities about reducing commercial tobacco use*. The World Health Organization (WHO) states commercial tobacco use kills about 7 million people every year and this number is expected to grow to 8 million a year by 2030 without increased action.

We see the harms of tobacco use in our health care facilities, schools, and communities on a daily basis. Tobacco use contributes to worsening health such as respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease; meanwhile, health care costs continue to increase as we treat people for tobacco related illnesses.

We can act now to stop this trend. Northern Health has a smoke-free grounds clinical practice standard that promotes the health of our patients, staff, families, and friends. This standard prohibits smoking and vaping in our facilities and on our grounds. Many of our communities now have bylaws that also prohibit smoking and vaping in outdoor spaces. These laws directly impact the health of our communities in a positive way!

But, we need your help. We need you to help us provide information and support to people who may be using commercial tobacco or who vape in our smoke-free spaces. Most people who use commercial tobacco want to quit. There is help available at QuitNow.ca and free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) available at any pharmacy in B.C. Speak to a pharmacist for details. With support and resources, we can help make quitting become a reality for those who wish to quit.

Here are some tips for supporting tobacco users in smoke-free spaces to quit:

  • Inform the person or people using tobacco in a smoke-free area that they are doing so in an area where this is not allowed. Many of these bylaws are still pretty new!
  • Ask the person if he or she would like to quit using commercial tobacco.
  • Provide them with the QuitNow.ca website for free resources and support.

Thank you for doing your part to make commercial tobacco use a part of history!


*In this post and in most public health messaging, “tobacco” is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in B.C. for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Share

Only in history

Ten year old Miranda Googles the word ‘tobacco’. When the page opens on her tablet, she sees that there are a lot of references there. Old images show people with small, round, tubular objects between their lips called cigarettes. The pictures also show smoke coming from these objects. She wonders how people lived with tobacco in the past.

Delhi Tobacco Museum & Heritage Centre

Imagine if our future generations learn about tobacco only from history books and museums!

Imagine if this scenario could be true. If our future generations learn about tobacco* only from history books and archives on Google!

The number of lives saved from tobacco-related deaths would be upwards of 7 million a year worldwide. Chronic diseases related to tobacco use would be non-existent. Imagine!

Join us this World No Tobacco Day in helping to make commercial tobacco use a thing of the past.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Tell one person you know who uses commercial tobacco that quitting is the best thing they can do for their health.
  • Support them to reach out to QuitNow.ca and the BC Lung Association for education and support on quitting tobacco use. The person can also go to any pharmacy and enroll for 12 weeks free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
  • Tell one person you don’t know that smoking in outdoor spaces closer than 6 metres to doors and windows is affecting the health of others. That within minutes of a few people smoking outdoors, the second-hand smoke concentration equals that of indoors.
  • Provide education and support about outdoor smoke- and vape-free spaces.
  • Check to see if your community has a bylaw that supports smoke- and vape-free outdoor spaces.

Currently, commercial tobacco use rates are about 20% in the north. We have a lot of work to do to help make commercial tobacco use history!

Let’s all work together to make Miranda’s experience a reality.


*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.

Share

The end game: What are your bold new ideas to reduce the harmful and costly effects of tobacco use?

Mascot with smoke-free spaces sign

The 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George were smoke-free! What are your bold ideas to contribute to tobacco-free communities?

You probably have a friend or family member who has experienced one or more of the debilitating diseases caused by smoking or chewing tobacco.

Tobacco use* remains the leading cause of premature death in Canada and kills over 37,000 Canadians every year. Tobacco kills half the people who use it and is also harmful to the people breathing second-hand smoke.

Although there has been a significant reduction in tobacco use over the last several decades, 15 per cent of Canadians still smoke. In our northern communities, the rate is over 20 per cent. Even though everyone knows that smoking or chewing tobacco hurts our bodies, over 100,000 Canadians start smoking daily every year. Most of these are youth.

We need a bold, new approach to reduce the use of this deadly product!

In partnership with all Canadians, the Government of Canada has set a goal to reduce the rate of tobacco use to five per cent by 2035. You can help make this happen! Is there something that you can do in your community to help youth stay tobacco-free or to help current tobacco users reduce or quit? Let the government know!

The Federal Tobacco Control Strategy ends March 2018. The Government of Canada is seeking input from interested Canadians to plan a new approach to radically reduce the use of tobacco in our country. Provide your feedback on the future of tobacco control in Canada. You can provide feedback by email or mail. Feedback must be received by April 13, 2017.

Contribute to helping Canadians to lead healthier, tobacco-free lives! Take part in the consultations on the future of tobacco control in Canada.


*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.

Share

10 tips for talking to kids about tobacco

Family walking in woods.

Talk to your kids about tobacco!

You can make a difference!

1. Don’t assume kids will learn all they need to know to be tobacco free at school and that you don’t need to get involved. Parents can help their kids to avoid the use of tobacco.

2. Let them know how you feel about tobacco use and help them develop the skills to say no to tobacco.

3. Kids do listen. They may feel a need to rebel at first but they will value the message, especially coming from you.

4. Make an emotional appeal – telling them how hurt or disappointed you would be by their smoking or chewing will have more impact than reasoning with them about the health dangers.

5. Know that peer pressure is often used as an excuse for tobacco use – it may provide an opportunity to start, but kids continue to smoke or chew for individual reasons.

6. Be a good role model – if you do smoke or chew, explain that you know it’s wrong and ask them to help you quit. If you aren’t ready to quit, share the reasons why you started, how hard it’s been to quit, and how you don’t want them to struggle with the same addiction you have.

7. Encourage your children to never try tobacco. It may only take a few cigarettes to become addicted. Instead, encourage them to develop healthy lifestyles and avoid the use of tobacco.

8. Have extended family support to keep kids tobacco free – often older siblings or other relatives introduce them to smoking or chewing.

9. Don’t believe that smoking or chewing is safer than “something else” – most kids are at real and greater risk from tobacco use than from other dangers. Research shows smoking is a gateway to other drug use.

10. It’s never too late to intervene. Kids are flexible and they can change for the right reasons.


In this article, as in most public health messaging, “tobacco” is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and is a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in B.C. for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial 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.

Share

“My whole life changed the day I started to smoke”

no smoking symbol

For many smokers addiction starts at a young age

“Hey, when did you start?” Bryan looks up. “When I was 13-I’m 20 now and I’m hooked.”

As we acknowledge National Non Smoking Week this week, our attention turns to youth. Nearly all tobacco use* begins during youth and progresses during young adulthood, according to the 2014 US Surgeon General Report.

What does Bryan want to say to kids who are smoking or thinking about trying it?

“Hey, that’s easy. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I’ve spent a ton of money on cigarettes. They stink. I can’t get apartments because I smoke, can’t get jobs, heck, I can’t get a girlfriend! I thought when I started I could stop whenever I wanted. I didn’t get the fact that nicotine is addictive. It controls me, I can’t control it. I was cut from the hockey team my senior year because smoking affected my ability to play the game. When I stopped playing hockey, I also was cut out from a lot of my friends. My whole life changed the day I started to smoke. I wish I knew how addictive smoking was.”

Help teens choose to say no to tobacco use. Help them be tobacco free for life. Choose now!

If you know a teen who uses tobacco, help them: tell them about QuitNow services and the BC Smoking Cessation Program. They can access free counselling by phone, text or email and free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers.


*In this blog post and in most public health messaging, ‘tobacco’ is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in BC for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Share