It’s a problem for many but a ray of light may help stop many from lighting that next cigarette. The Tobacco Healing Centre, the first of its kind, opened its doors June I I in the town of Arnprior, near Ottawa.

The centre already claims an 80 per cent success rate and says it will handle 1,500 to 2,000 smokers a year. Half of the spaces are reserved for First Nations people. The 80 per cent claimed success rate is based on a Health Canada-funded five-day program involving 23 Aboriginals from Edmonton last year. The pilot study has an 83 per cent rate one year later with no one going back to the addictive weed.

As a further experiment they went to New York and met with health workers there. They have an astounding 80 per cent non-smoking rate with more picking new stop-smoking dates again. These are two of the six studies done on the Centre’s methods.

Among the Tobacco Healing Centre’s first customers will be 20 First Nations people. It will cost $1,500 per participant.

That cost is low when you consider the cost of cigarettes is $9 per pack (which will cost you $3,285 per year if you smoke a pack a day). This doesn’t even take into account the health costs associated with smoking. Murray Kelly, the centre’s founder, said he saw a recent Health Canada report that shows smokers cost an organization or business on the average $3,000 a year more than a non-smoker. This is due to a loss of productivity, more sick days and drawing on health benefits more than non-smokers.

The first clients of the centre are likely due to smoking statistics. While 30 per cent of the Canadian adult population smokes, for Aboriginal people it’s a high 64 per cent rate (2002 study). To break that down Health Canada says, 60 percent of on-reserve First Nations people between the ages of 18 and 34 currently smoke; 70 percent of Inuit in the north between the ages of 18 and 45 currently smoke; almost half of Inuit (46%) who smoke started smoking at age 14 or younger; and the majority of on-reserve First Nations people who smoke (52%) started smoking between the ages of 13 and 16.

This gives you an idea of the problem Health Canada and First Nations are looking at in terms of tobacco addiction.

The centre admits Aboriginal people have a special relationship with tobacco. The centre has First Nations healer, Philip Campiou, a Woodland Cree on staff. He recognizes most First Nations regard tobacco as sacred. The centre deals with this saying you have to acknowledge tobacco as your friend and instead of consuming it, to give it back to the Creator as an offering. A sweat lodge is available on-site at the centre. Teepees have been set up for ceremonies and meditation.

First Nations healers and traditional people have always said tobacco wasn’t meant as a daily thing but something that was used on special occasions and ceremonies.

The centre is looking for sponsors for people who cannot afford the cost of getting treated.

The five-day program includes 100 days of telephone follow-up.

To contact the Tobacco Healing Centre call: 613-623-4242 ext 29 and talk to Ms. Kender Smith.

For those of you wishing to quit now you can phone: in Quebec 1 866 j’arrête [527-7383] (English and French only) and in Ontario 1-877-513-5333 (also in English and French).