Respecting Tobacco

Traditional and Non-Traditional Tobacco Use • FNHA Tobacco Use Podcasts • Help with Quitting Commercial Tobacco • Tobacco Timeout Challenge

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Traditional and Non-Traditio​nal Tobacco Use

For thousands of years, natural tobacco has been an integral part of Aboriginal culture in many parts of British Columbia and Canada. Used in ritual, ceremony and prayer, tobacco was considered a sacred plant with immense healing and spiritual benefits. For these reasons, the tobacco plant should be treated with great respect.

We should also be very careful not to confuse traditional tobacco and its sacred uses with commercial tobacco and the addiction epidemic we see today.


FNHA animation about the difference between traditional and commercial tobacco (video, 8.26 mins)

When tobacco is used in a non-traditional manner it can cause lung diseases, lung cancer, mouth cancer, heart disease, cancers of the upper respiratory tract and risks during pregnancy. Non-traditional tobacco use includes smoking cigarettes and hookahs and using smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco, snuff and snus.

One of the main reasons people smoke – and why it is so hard to stop – is the addiction to nicotine. Many people also develop an emotional dependence on smoking.​


​​FNHA ​video on the traditional uses of tobacco​ (video, 3.48 mins)

Secondhand ​​Smoke

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of commercial cigarettes or tobacco. It can be very harmful to you and your family's health. When you smoke inside your home or car, the smoke gets trapped in the fabric and carpets, causing it to linger for a long time – sometimes up to two years. This means that not only is the smoke harmful to anyone in the room at the time of smoking, but also anyone that comes into the room afterwards.

Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, many of which are linked to lung and heart disease, ear infections, breathing problems and weakened immune systems. Secondhand smoke also has a link to higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome for infants who are exposed.

Vaping and e-Cig​arettes

FNHA Tobacco Use Podcasts

Smokestack​​ Sandra 

Smokestack Sandra is an FNHA tobacco-cessation podcast that shares the personal journey of a respected northern First Nations leader as she commits to quitting commercial cigarettes. The candid and humorous three-part podcast tracks Sandra Teegee, Deputy Chief of Takla Lake First Nation, over a series of weeks with personal stories and a number of guest speakers.

(left) Sandra Teegee at 23, before she began smoking; (right) Sandra Teegee today

Tobacco Nation

Tobacco Nation is a four-part podcast series featuring candid and moving stories about tobacco. All stories are told by First Nations people living in BC. The episodes explore tobacco through a unique lens: cancer, community, tradition and youth.

The podcast series includes cameos from First Nations surgeon and academic Dr. Nadine Caron, UBC's Dr. Lee Brown, FNHA former CEO Joe Gallagher, FNHA former Director of Mental Wellness Patricia Vickers and a number of other First Nations Elders and community members with compelling stories to share.

By touching on various aspects of tobacco use via personal stories, Tobacco Nation strives to begin the practice of sharing our personal experiences with tobacco in order to inform, educate and inspire one another.

Tobacco Nation is hosted by Wawmeesh Hamilton, award-winning reporter and member of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni

Help with Quitting Commercial​​ Tobacco

Long-term commercial tobacco use can do immense damage to your body, mind and spirit. The long list of diseases that tobacco use causes are well known and well documented. What many people don't know is that much of this damage can be undone by quitting tobacco. Even if you have been using commercial tobacco for many years, you can still improve your health by quitting today.

Everybody has something to gain from quitting commercial tobacco – and the health benefits begin almost immediately. There's also smelling better, looking better, feeling better and being richer! And you'll be an amazing role model and leader to your family and community.

  • Are you trying to stop smoking or vaping? (FNHA fact sheet) Quit Tips • Ask the Creator for Strength • Drink Water • Do a Traditional Craft or Activity • Walk in Nature • Do a Sweat • Be Kind to Yourself​
  • 10 Myths about Smoking (FNHA fact sheet) – I've smoked for so long the damage is already done • Quitting will make me gain weight • Quitting cold turkey is the only way to do it • An occasional cigarette is fairly harmless • Smoking helps me relax and helps manage my stress • Quitting smoking could make my mental health condition worse • I smoked during my last pregnancy and my baby was okay, I can smoke during this • pregnancy too • E-cigarettes are safe • Smoking is less harmful than alcoholism​

Talk Tobacc​​​o​​ 

Qu​it Aids

Quit aids, such as the patch, nicotine gum or prescription medicine can double your odds of successfully quitting. There are many different quit aids on the market but the two most commonly used are:

  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy – NRT products include nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and mouth spray. They provide a clean way to get nicotine in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms. They are available at pharmacies without a prescription
  • prescription medication – prescription medication for smoking cessation include bupropion (Zyban), an antidepressant, and Varenicline (Chantix and Champix), which blocks the effect of nicotine on the brain. Both of these medicines require a prescription from a doctor or nurse practitioner. Talk to your pharmacist, doctor or nurse practitioner to determine the best choice of treatment for you

You can get free NRT products and prescription medication through the BC Smoking Cessation Program and FNHA Health Benefits​.

  • Quitting Commercial Tobacco FAQs (FNHA fact sheet) What medications and products can help me quit? • What coverage is available? • Can I get smoking cessation benefits from two programs at the same time? • Can I get more medication or NRT when I run out? • Can I switch from a prescription drug to NRTs? • What if I complete the BC Smoking Cessation Program and have not quit? • Why do I have to sign a declaration form?
  • Coverage for Products to Quit the Use of Commercial Tobacco (FNHA fact sheet)

For questions about coverage, please contact FNHA Health Benefits (phone toll-free: 1-855-550-5454 or email:

Make​​ a Plan

The first step toward quitting commercial tobacco for good is to decide that you want to go for it. Once you have made that decision, the next step is to make a plan.

Set a date, be aware of your triggers (things that make you want to smoke, such as morning coffee, hanging out with friends and so on) and prepare healthy snacks and other items to help you through your quit.

Get Tips, Reso​​urces and Help from Professionals

Tips on creating a plan can be found on the website, BC's free quitting resource site. To get the best use of the site, create an account (it's free) and try out the Quit Plan tool, which walks you through each step of preparation you will need to quit smoking with success.

Information on setting a quit date, identifying your smoking “triggers," managing cravings and coping with withdrawal can all be found on the site.

  • Run to Quit – Walk or Run to Quit is a 10-week training program that will help you quit smoking and teach you how to walk or run 5 km.

Talk to Som​​eone

It is always helpful to talk about your decision to quit with a health professional, a quit coach, an Elder or even a family member or friend. Talk to someone who knows what you are going through and can give you support and guidance. Professional “quit coaches" are available by phone or instant chat, 24 hours a day, on the website, BC's free quitting resource site.

Never G​ive Up

It generally takes at least three serious attempts at quitting before a person becomes a lifetime non-smoker and for many people it takes six or more tries. If you are not successful the first time you try to quit, don't give up. Learn from the experience and get back on track right away. Some people can quit on the first try and some find it takes many attempts before they are successful. It is your personal journey so do not give up, keep trying and you will get there.

After You Quit S​moking

Your body starts to recover almost immediately after you quit smoking:

  • in 20 minutes – Your pulse and blood pressure return to normal
  • in 8 hours – Your body's oxygen levels return to normal
  • in 12 hours – Carbon monoxide is cleared from your blood and your lungs start to clear out mucus
  • in 2 days – Your senses of taste and smell begin to return and will continue improving over the next few days
  • in 3 to 5 days – Your withdrawal symptoms should be getting better now. The nicotine is cleaned from your body!
  • in 2 weeks to 3 months – Your circulation improves and your lungs start performing better
  • in 1 to 9 months – Coughing and shortness of breath decrease
  • in 1 year – Your risk of heart disease drops to half that of a continuing smoker
  • in 5 years – Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer drops to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker 2-5 years after quitting
  • in 10 years – Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking
  • in 15 years – Your risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker

Helping Some​​one Else Quit

If you want to support a family member, friend or loved one with their quitting journey, here are some tips and resources to help:

 Tobacco and COVID-19

Smokin​g, Vaping and COVID-19: Do They Affect Each Other?​ (video, 5.05 mins) – whiteboard animation of Fletcher Greyeyes' Our Voices, Loud and Clear "talk show"


Mental Health and Wellne​ss Team