A combined effort by the health region, primary heath team and local schools has been focused on the prevention of tobacco use, and on the recent push to ban flavoured tobacco.
Wadena Composite School’s Grade 9 class, under the direction of teacher Angela Fielding, literally took their message of harmful tobaccco use to the streets on the closest Friday to World No Tobacco Day, May 31.
“Our primary health team working with the Saskatoon Health Region has been targeting the prevention and treatment of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) over the past year,” says local pharmacist Yvonne Linnen. “I am involved with smoking-cessation counselling at the Wadena Medical Clinic and working with the other primary health team members in prevention and education of youth in tobacco use. We are targeting smokeless tobacco education and supporting the ban of flavoured tobacco.”
Linnen and Jill Hubick of the Lung Association each gave a presentation at Wadena Composite School (WCS). While Linnen focused on smokeless tobacco, Hubick presented on the effects of tobacco use. The presentations were to support the Grade 9 health program spearheaded by teacher Angela Fielding, who has expanded on the use of tobacco and smokeless tobacco within the school and community as part of her curriculum.
“The local statistics are staggering,” stated Fielding. “Saskatchewan in particular has the highest tobacco use by youth compared to the rest of the country.”
At Wadena Composite School the percentage of students who use tobacco are: Grades 7 and 8, 11 per cent each; Grade 9, 50 per cent; Grade 10, 36 per cent; Grades 11and 12, 38 and 30 per cent, respectively.
“Twenty-seven per cent of students indicated they are occasional or regular tobacco users,” stated WCS principal Darin Faubert. “The Canadian norm is 15 per cent. Seventeen per cent of girls and 37 per cent of boys are occasional or regular users. The Canadian norm is 13 per cent for girls and 18 per cent for boys.”
Fielding’s class also worked on a couple of different projects to help promote the non-use of any form of tobacco, particularly focusing on educating younger students as well as the general public.
The first project was to help create public awareness around World No Tobacco Day on May 31 as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). So, early one morning the class gathered on Main Street in Wadena armed with sidewalk chalk. Their purpose: to fill the sidewalks with short colourful messages about the harms of tobacco use. When asked about the reaction of the public while writing the messages, the class said it was mixed. One passerby commented that it was a waste of time, while others thought it was a good idea.
The Grade 9 class took it all in stride as they had no time to waste; they were preparing for a series of presentations to the Grades 4-6 students at Wadena Elementary School. Some of the research that stood out in the minds of the Grade 9 students was the number and types of chemicals found in cigarettes and the effects of second-hand smoke. The same went for smokeless tobacco and the fact that flavoured tobacco looks like candy.
Earlier this year there was overwhelming support for the Canadian Cancer Society, armed with a new public opinion poll, calling on Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government to ban the sale of all flavoured tobacco products. The Ipsos Reid poll found that 81 per cent of Saskatchewan residents, including 63 per cent of smokers, support legislation to ban fruit- and candy-flavoured tobacco.
In Canada, many categories of tobacco products are heavily flavoured, including cigarillos (little cigars), water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and menthol cigarettes. The flavours include chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, strawberry, and other fruit and candy flavours that are appealing to youth. The flavours are intended to mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make it easier for youth to become addicted.
Saskatchewan has had the highest teen smoking in Canada for 10 years in a row. Established statistics show 20 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds smoke, compared to 11 per cent nationally.
By logging on to takeaction.cancer.ca, people can automatically send a letter of support for anti-tobacco legislation to their MLA.
By Alison Squires