Decline in Canadian smoking rates stalling

Thursday, January 30, 2014

After years of steady decline, rates of tobacco use in Canada have stalled, according to a new report published by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. The report found that 16.1% or 4.6 million Canadians were current smokers in 2012, which was not a significant change from 2011.

“Smoking rates are no longer dropping like they used to. It’s an alarming shift in the trend,” said Barbara Riley, Executive Director of the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact. “For nearly fifty years we have observed steady drops in the number of Canadian smokers, but that drop has plateaued in recent years.”

Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in Canada; more than obesity, physical inactivity or high blood pressure. More than 37,000 Canadians will die prematurely this year due to tobacco.

“There is a general impression that smoking is yesterday’s problem,” said David Hammond, an associate professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences and report co-author. “This report is a reminder that smoking remains one of the leading public health threats in Canada and we need additional measures if smoking rates are to drop further.”

Historically the greatest declines in tobacco use are observed when government implements deliberate tobacco control efforts.

According to the report, males are more likely than females to smoke and also consume more cigarettes per day, on average. Smoking prevalence was highest among young adults aged 20-34.

“Currently the highest prevalence is among a demographic who ostensibly grew up knowing the dangers of smoking,” said Professor Hammond. “Social norms need to change or else we will face a huge burden of illness in the future.”

Each day, 100 Canadians die from a smoking-related illness. Half of all long-term smokers will die or be disabled from a tobacco-related disease.

The findings are part of the larger report, Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, which uses data from national surveys conducted by Health Canada and Statistics Canada to summarize the main patterns in tobacco use in Canada between 1999 and 2012, with a focus on the current year. This year, the report includes a special supplement on flavoured tobacco. 

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