Research points to troubling youth tobacco trends

Cigarette smoking is declining about Canadian youth, but the growing popularity of hookah bars and cigarillos is causing concern.

By Bob Burtt

Communications & Public Affairs

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Group shot of PropelThe number of young cigarette smokers is on the decline, but there are still troubling trends with young people and tobacco use says, Heather McGrath, knowledge translation officer with the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact.

Propel, a partnership between the University of Waterloo and the Canadian Cancer Society, works to improve health through tobacco control and youth health programs.

The 2010-2011 Youth Smoking Survey, funded by Health Canada and conducted at Propel, found that 93,870 fewer Canadian youth in grades six to 12 had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, as compared to the year before.

While that is encouraging, McGrath noted that researchers continue to be concerned about the popularity of cigarillos, water-pipes and hookah bars. A hookah bar is a place where people go to smoke flavoured tobacco from a communal hooka or water-pipe.

Commenting in May after the release of the youth smoking survey, Propel senior scientist Steve Manske said water-pipe smoking might lead to tobacco addiction among youth who are otherwise non-smokers. He said use of water-pipes increases exposure to tobacco toxins and re-opens the issue of second-hand smoke.

Propel researchers are also concerned about approximately 625,000 Canadian youth who don’t smoke, but haven’t made a firm decision to remain smoke free.

Statistics from Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, 2012 edition, an annual report supported by Propel, indicate that:

  • Of the 4.7 million current smokers in Canada, up to half will become ill or die from continued tobacco use
  • Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in Canada responsible for more than 37,000 deaths annually
  • Tobacco related illnesses cost Canadians $4.4 billion in direct health care cost and are responsible for 2.2 million acute care hospital days
  • The number of people smoking in Canada, 16.7 per cent, is at its lowest since 1999
  • Half of the smokers who visited a doctor in the last year were advised to quit
  • Smoking prevalence was highest among young adults age 20-24 at 22.1 per cent
  • Prevalence among youth aged 15-19 varied by province ranging from nine per cent in BC and Ontario to more than 20 per cent in Saskatchewan
  • The average age that youngsters smoke their first cigarette is 11