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First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples

Smoking and Aboriginal Peoples

Tobacco has traditional and recreational use for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Traditional tobacco use

Recreational tobacco use

How to quit smoking

Traditional tobacco use

Tobacco is used by many First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples for ceremonies and medicinal purposes. Growing and harvesting tobacco for traditional purposes is considered a sacred act. This history goes back thousands of years.

When tobacco is burned in sacred pipes or fires, it is believed that the smoke carries prayers to the spirit world. Many Aboriginal people still use tobacco in this way today.

Every Aboriginal community is different, but there are some common ways that tobacco is used.

How sacred tobacco is used

  • As a daily offering to say prayers and give thanks for all the gifts the Creator has given.
  • Tobacco is placed onto Mother Earth in a quiet place where no one walks. This is a way of showing awareness and thanks for providing all the things that help sustain our physical beings. Offering tobacco to water, for example, is a way to show understanding of how water is the lifeblood that sustains us.
  • Offering sacred tobacco is a way of giving thanks in advance of a request. Whenever there is a request for guidance, advice, ceremonies or taking from the animal or spirit world, sacred tobacco is always offered first.
  • The smoke from the tobacco plant is used in ceremonies to cleanse or purify an individual, object, or place that is part of that ceremony.

Recreational use of tobacco

The recreational use of tobacco (smoking cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco) does not have the same sacred and spiritual meaning as the traditional use of tobacco. First Nations Elders maintain that recreational use is disrespectful of the spiritual, medicinal and traditional use of tobacco.

Aboriginal peoples have the same health and social problems from smoking as non-Aboriginal people. More Aboriginal people smoke compared to the non-Aboriginal Canadian population. About 60% of the Canadian Aboriginal population smokes compared to 17% of the non-Aboriginal Canadian population. That means that more Aboriginal people are becoming sick or dying from using tobacco.

How to quit smoking

Many of the same strategies that are used for non-Aboriginal smokers can be used for Aboriginal smokers.

There are also quit smoking programs for Aboriginal peoples. These programs are rooted in Aboriginal ways of learning, knowing, healing and recovery. You may have more success with these programs.

The Tobacco Free Nova Scotia program offers free, confidential and non-judgemental support about how you can quit smoking. A caring counsellor can work with you, at your pace, to help you develop and follow your plan. They can also tell you about stop smoking programs for Aboriginal people. Learn more.

Additional Resources

Tobacco Wise – an Aboriginal Tobacco Program

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)


Information sources: Health Canada, Tobacco Wise, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)