Tobacco Peer Educators – Reaching out in other languages

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by Mercedes Rodriguez, PTE

The Language Specific Smoking Cessation Program, funded by Smoke-Free Ontario, was developed to provide tobacco treatment information and counseling to foreign born Toronto residents in their own languages. This program is currently being offered in Spanish, Bengali, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Japanese and English through the Flemingdon Health Centre and in Spanish, Russian, Amharic, Tigrinya and English through the New Heights Community Health Centres. These services are provided by Tobacco Peer Educators (TPE), foreign trained health professionals who have undergone the Training Enhancement in Applied Cessation Counseling and Health (TEACH) offered by the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH).

Their goal is to reach out to those who cannot access tobacco treatment services due to cultural and language barriers, and to raise awareness about the health risks of smoke and second-hand smoke among high risk populations. Depending on our clients’ needs, they offer two different counseling strategies, smoking cessation and harm reduction, through either individual counseling or support groups. For those who are in the process of quitting, smoking cessation counseling is the best approach, including access to free nicotine replacement therapy when necessary. Likewise, for those who are not ready to stop smoking, they offer another option called harm reduction counseling, aimed at decreasing exposure to the harmful substances produced by tobacco smoking. In any case, they provide guidance in a non-judgmental environment where the client ultimately designs the path to follow. They acknowledge that quitting is a process and they are there to provide support and encouragement. The program is very open and we welcome clients who just want to help a loved one quit, providing them with information and tips.

Smoking is the single most preventable cause of illness and death, and accounts for 12% of the financial burden of disease, disability and death in Canada. As an International Medical Graduate who is passionate about Public Health, this program has given me the opportunity to have a positive impact in my community while gaining Canadian experience as a health care professional, working side by side with a multidisciplinary team at the Flemingdon Health Centre to achieve the best possible results for the populations we serve.

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