Nine out of 10 pregnant women in Nunavut are regular smokers, according to estimates by a territorial government representative tasked with reducing tobacco addiction among the territory's population. 

Nunavut has Canada's highest smoking rates at 62 per cent, according to 2014 Statistics Canada data. However, Frankie Best, a tobacco reduction specialist with the Government of Nunavut, says that the real numbers are likely even higher.

"Smoking during pregnancy is a huge issue, and a very big concern to us all," said Best. "Anecdotally, we hear from community health staff and staff at Qikiqtani General Hospital that upwards of 90 per cent of pregnant women smoke."

Jutai Toonoo and Frankie Best

'Smoking during pregnancy is a huge issue and a very big concern to us all,' said Frankie Best, right, the tobacco reduction specialist with the Government of Nunavut. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

One of those women is 21-year-old Vikki Amaaq, who is currently four months pregnant with her second child. 

Amaaq started smoking when she was 11, and despite her doctor's warning, she smoked during her first pregnancy and has continued to into her second. 

"I used to smoke when I was pregnant with my son," she said. "Like three sticks a day. But now I smoke more than that."

Amaaq, who said she currently smokes 12 to 13 cigarettes a day, said she knows smoking may harm her baby.

"When someone tells me to quit or cut down, I started smoking even more," she said, adding that she's found it hard to quit the habit.

In Igloolik, Amaaq said, smoking during pregnancy is the norm. She said that many women in her community have smoked during pregnancy.

Experts say that smoking during pregnancy can increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as low birth weight and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Anti-smoking campaigns for pregnant women, new mothers

Tobacco free poster

For the past five years, the territory has been working on campaigns about the harms of tobacco. Pregnant women and new mothers are some of their key targets. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

As part of their anti-smoking framework, the Government of Nunavut says health workers are educating pregnant women through outreach campaigns, urging them to quit.

For the past five years, said Best, the territory has been working on campaigns about the harms of tobacco, spending over $1.5 million annually on various initiatives. Pregnant women and new mothers are some of their key targets.

"A large part of our poster campaign with testimonials is to educate moms that smoking while they have a baby in their amautiq [a traditional Inuit women's parka in which a small child can be carried in the hood] is not healthy for the baby," said Best.

"There are no safe levels of secondhand smoke."