OTTAWA — Fewer women are lighting up, but Canada’s smoking rate has flatlined in the last three years — a trend some blame on cheap illegal butts.
New figures from Statistics Canada show 18% of Canadians reported smoking either every day or occasionally last year — about the same level as in 2005.
“The rate of decline has slowed, and that’s because of the widespread inexpensive contraband cigarettes,” said Rob Cunningham, a policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society. “We’re very concerned, and it is essential that Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan and the federal government move quickly to get the contraband situation under control.”
Cunningham said a carton of 200 contraband cigarettes can sell for $6 — a tiny fraction of the in-store price with taxes.
Smoking among adults 25 and older dropped to 17% in 2008 from 19% in 2007, and the rate of puffing women in that age group declined to 15% in 2008 from 18% in 2007. But 12% of Canadians aged 20-24 had smoked a little cigar or cigarillo in the 30 days prior to the survey — as did 9% of those in the 15-19 age group.
Cunningham said young people are lured by fruit-flavoured “kiddie” cigars, and urged the Senate to swiftly pass into law a bill that bans them which cleared the House of Commons this spring.
Smoking rates have declined over the years due to high taxes, ad restrictions, warnings on packages, smoking bans and public awareness campaigns. But NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said numbers have plateaued without keeping pace with federal targets — and called for tougher regulations to make cigarettes less appealing.
“We’re still at unacceptable levels that produce horrible consequences for health and well-being, increased cancer and death rates,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon Parliament and all MPs to keep working on it.”