CALGARY – Doctors from across the country have gathered in Calgary for a first-of-its-kind forum focusing on Indigenous issues, including high rates of addiction. 

The Harm Reduction Forum will hear practical ways health care providers, researchers and members of the community can support people impacted by addictions in indigenous communities.              

According to organizers, smoking rates in the Indigenous populations are, on average, twice as high as the non-Indigenous population and the forum aims to help tackle those statistics. 

According to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, rates are highest in Inuit communities followed by First Nation & Métis communities.               

Organizers say there is a number of factors that play into the high rates including access to health care resources and the fact natural tobacco is an integral part of many indigenous cultures and is used in rituals, ceremonies and prayer.               

Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc. is participating and helped organize the forum. Karen Donnelly says the company is shifting its focus to smoke-free alternatives and part of that includes educating people on the harms and risk that come with smoking .  

"We're looking towards a smoke-free future," said Donnelly. "We have a campaign called Unsmoke and by 2035 we want to be out of the cigarette business."

The forum, which will feature speeches and panel discussions from experts, will be held at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.