New Tobacco Reduction Program for the Portage Keremeos community
Since last September, Gail Bastow of BC Quit Now has been working at Portage Keremeos under a Health Canada grant, as the Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Her goal has been to develop a sustainable strategy to de-normalise tobacco for both the adolescent residents as well as the Portage Keremeos staff members who smoke.
The youth at Portage Keremeos
are entitled to four smoke breaks a day, as they undergo drug rehabilitation therapy. Through innovative new initiatives, as well as education and support, Ms. Bastow is helping the entire community gain a better understanding of the effects of tobacco and nicotine, and has been giving them tools to help them reduce their tobacco consumption.
“I have made it clear to both staff and residents that I’m not here to judge, but to provide them with information and to support anyone who wants to quit,” explains Ms. Bastow, who maintains an open door policy and gets involved in community activities or meetings to engage with the youth at every opportunity.
As a respiratory therapist, a long-time health promoter, and a former smoker, Ms. Bastow has had a profound impact on the youth and the staff at Portage.
Initiatives such as the rubber bracelet program and the peer voting program, which reward residents for voluntarily going without a smoke break, have been very successful.
“Those bracelets became a real badge of honour,” states Ms. Bastow. “The youth were very proud of their ability to deny themselves a smoke break.”
One of the crowning events of the program took place at the centre on April 21st. Residents and staff members had trained for seven weeks through a “Learn to Run” program in preparation for a five kilometre run around the property. Bastow coached the residents through a run-walk interval training program designed for non-runners, during which she would lead discussions on what smoking does to the body and also about the importance of nutrition, hydration, and injury prevention. Participants readily recognised that the coughing and wheezing they experienced while running was attributable to their smoking habits, and were proud to see how they could improve as they cut down on their smoking.
The “Learn to Run” program was not mandatory, but nearly three quarters of the community participated in the training. Many residents got their Physical Education credit at Portage Academy by doing it, which made the process even more revelatory, as these students were required to keep a log book in which they set goals and recorded their feelings and progress.
The entire Portage community came out for the big race, either as runners or walkers, time-keepers, or water-station attendants. Everyone had a really great time and the runners were incredibly proud of their accomplishments.
“I used to do track and field, before I developed an addiction problem. When I started the running program, I could really tell the difference in my breathing because of smoking. It was great to get back into running and to learn more about how to have a healthy lifestyle,” said one resident after the race.
Ms. Bastow has been working with the teachers at Portage Academy
in order to weave the Tobacco Reduction Strategy into the school curriculum. During Spring Break, she animated several hands-on Tobacco Reduction workshops with the residents, which opened their eyes to new things and sparked some very animated discussions.
With the Health Canada grant now extended until June, Ms. Bastow is working with staff members to equip the centre with tools and resources to integrate the Tobacco Reduction Strategy into the Portage Program on a permanent basis.
“I am absolutely impressed by the program here and have been amazed to see the young people transform into what they can become,” she says. “I realise that they’re here to focus on their addiction issues, but my hat goes off to those youth who are digging in their heels and saying, ‘I’m not going to smoke either.’”
Since Bastow has been at the Keremeos centre, many residents have reduced their tobacco consumption and eleven youth have quit smoking for a week or longer, exceeding her expectations.