Smoking decline has slowed — more should be done, group says

New figures suggest Canadian smoking rates have been dropping over the past decade but that the decline has slowed considerably, and there’s plenty the government could do about it, reports the Canadian Cancer Society.

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the not-for-profit, said although the latest Statistics Canada figures show just 18 per cent of Canadians 15 years and older, (about 4.9 million), said they smoked last year compared with 25 per cent of all Canadians in 1999, much of the decline happened in the early part of the decade.

He said there’s been just a one-percent decline in the past five years, which leaves much room for improvement.

“There’s 37,000 Canadians that die each year from smoking,” he said. “Every one-per-cent decline translates into an enormous public health benefit.”

He attributes the stalled rate of decline to the growth of the contraband tobacco industry and the fact that neither the federal nor provincial governments have increased taxes in years.

“We’ve also seen Health Canada eliminate its mass media campaign,” he said. “We believe governments have to do more.”

He’s calling on Ottawa to resurrect its anti-smoking campaign, get tough on smugglers and implement plain packaging.

He said some provinces are behind when it comes to smoking restrictions. Although some have banned smoking in cars with children and on restaurant patios, others have not, he said.

Smoking rates were lowest in British Columbia (15 per cent) and highest in Saskatchewan (22 per cent).

The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey released Monday says more Canadians have made the tough decision to butt out and many more are choosing to not take up the habit.

Survey figures suggest 1.3 million Canadians gave up the habit, while the number of people who haven’t started increased by 3.4 million. The study noted the population rose 14 per cent over the 11-year period.

For those aged 15 to 19, smoking rates were 13 per cent last year (about 286,000), down from 28 per cent in 1999 and the lowest ever recorded by Health Canada.

That said, nearly two-thirds of underage smokers said they got their cigarettes from a retail store.

Figures for last year, which are largely unchanged from 2008, indicate there are more male smokers than female smokers and that the average daily smoker consumed, on average, 14.5 cigarettes per day.

Young adults aged 20 to 24 experienced a significant year-over-year drop in smoking rates, to 23 per cent in 2009, from 27 per cent in 2008.

“The overall decline in this age group was driven by a significant decrease in the male smoking rate, falling to 26 per cent, from 33 per cent in 2008,” the study found.

Some 30 per cent of smokers sought to save money by purchasing discount brands, and 16 per cent bought cigarettes from a first nations reserve. About three per cent of respondents admitted they purchased cigarettes that might have been smuggled.

The survey found that, in 2009, 45 per cent of daily smokers said they had attempted to quit in the past 12 months compared with 71 per cent in 2003.


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