Turning Labrador blue

Michael Johansen
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Several times a day - in fact, often 20 times or more - I used to enjoy the wonderful pleasure of smoking a cigarette.
Although I started the habit late in life - I was all of 17 years old, instead of the usual 13 or 14 - it didn't take me long to become happily addicted. I knew it was a dangerous, health-sapping vice, but it was my vice and I wasn't hurting anyone else, was I?
The first cigarette of the day was always the best - there is little so heart-warming as a fresh nicotine rush after seven or eight hours of abstinence. My second favourite time to smoke was right after hiking to the peak of a tall hill to enjoy the view. There's nothing like a cigarette to celebrate fresh air. A close third was when I sat down for a cup of coffee with friends in a restaurant somewhere.
One day a friend complained about my smoke. I responded by shifting my chair further away and holding my cigarette in the general direction of an open window. My efforts didn't impress her.
"Smokers just don't get it," she said with frustration.
She was right. I didn't get it until several years after I managed to quit - which I did in Nain while working in a place where I suddenly seemed to be the only non-smoker. Right after giving it up the smell of someone else smoking remained a strong temptation. It made me want to experience that first drag again, to feel the homecoming rush of nicotine one more time. I persevered and the temptation faded. Second-hand smoke became a neutral thing. You want a cigarette? Go ahead! Doesn't bother me.
Eventually, however, I got used to living without it in my own home. Now I prefer not be near someone who's smoking - not because it makes me want a cigarette, but because the smell has become literally sickening to me. I finally get it.
But that was more than a decade ago and now a simple blue light is showing that the world has since changed for the better. The bulb made its first appearance in Nunavik communities in northern Quebec, where it became so popular it caught the attention of health officials from Labrador's Nunatsiavut government. Their Department of Health and Social Development introduced the blue bulb to four north coast communities last October and now almost half the houses are reported to have them illuminating their front porches. This week the give-away campaign was launched in North West River, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Nain.
What the blue light means is that if the Nunatsiavut health department succeeds in handing out every bulb it has (which is what workers expect) and if everybody who takes one makes it their outside light (which, of course, is not guaranteed), then at least 2,000 homes in northern and central Labrador will be declared smoke free - 600 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay alone.
Beyond this, what's making the campaign a notable success (at a time when smoking-related cancer rates among Inuit appear to be twice as high as the North American average), is that it's not just preaching to the choir, to those who've never smoked in their lives or to born-again non-smokers like myself. It is also appealing to current smokers, who are among those who've gone to get free light bulbs from the Nunatsiavut government, promising to put them up over their doors. If they do they'll actually be condemning themselves to smoke in the cold. The blue light doesn't force them to quit their habit, but it does make them take it outside for the sake of their family - and their friends, too, no doubt. The blue light shows that smokers are learning they share the harms of their addiction with everyone around. They're learning without having to quit first.
Smokers get it now.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Department of Health and Social Development, North American

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Northern Quebec North West River

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