Who is still smoking in Canada?

Smoking rates continue to drop and have led to a decline in cancer death rates, but a sizable number of Canadians continue to light up.

In fact, some anti-smoking advocates are concerned about the rise in popularity of new ways to smoke among young adults.

Sexy Smoking

Woman exhaling cigarette smoke

In one study of Montreal-area youth, for example, 23 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds had smoked water pipes in the previous year, a spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society pointed out. That’s a number slightly higher than the Canadian average.

Statistics on the number of smokers differ a bit depending on what source one uses. The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, a Statistics Canada study, puts the number of Canadian smokers somewhere around 17 per cent (or 4.7 million Canadians).

However, Neil Collishaw, research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said the more extensive Canadian Community Health Survey, also administered by Statistics Canada, says that about 20 per cent of Canadians smoke (or six million people).

“Six million smokers ain’t smoke free, so we got a ways to go,” said Collishaw.

As to who is smoking these days, Collishaw said that the habit continues to be general right across all age groups, both sexes and all income classes.

Around 22 per cent of those aged 20-24 smoke. Twenty-one per cent of 25-34 year olds smoke, followed by 20 per cent of 35- to 44-year-olds and 19 per cent of those aged 45-54.

New ways of smoking

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said his concern is with the rise in popularity of flavoured little cigars and water pipes among young adults.

“Among the youth and young adults, these two product categories have really taken off, even though a decade ago it was essentially non-existent,” he said.

He added that while new legislation banned the sale of the small cigars, the tobacco industry changed the size of the products slightly and removed the filters to comply with the new law.

Cunningham said the smoking of water pipes, which are also known as hookahs and shishas, is also “taking off among youth.”

He said statistics on this are sparse but that, anecdotally, it appears that the use of water pipes appears to be growing. In one study of Montreal-area youth, 23 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds had smoked water pipes in the previous year, he said.

“That’s enormous for something that most adults have never heard of. But the indications are that it’s spreading across Canada.” Some restaurants and cafes are offering it to their customers, Cunningham said.

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