The agency’s annual Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey found only 17 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 identified themselves as smokers, marking a new record low in the history of the study and down from the high of 25 per cent recorded in 1999.The decrease has been particularly dramatic among youth, a key group for gauging the success of anti-smoking initiatives. Smoking rates among those between 15 and 19 have been cut by more than half since 1999, the survey found, with the number of young smokers tumbling to 12 per cent from 28 per cent.The Canadian Cancer Society has heralded the latest data as a sign that political strategies to curtail tobacco use over the past decade have been bearing fruit, but senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham warned governments must be prepared to crack down even further.”It’s an incredible public health story . . . in terms of what’s been achieved, but we cannot become complacent,” Cunningham said in a telephone interview. “An enormous amount of work remains to be done.”Cunningham said a key step would be to renew the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy, which is currently set to expire next year. The four-pronged strategy drove efforts to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packaging and other high-profile efforts to raise awareness of the harmful health effects of smoking.The strategy’s stated goal was to reduce the Canadian smoking rate to 12 per cent by 2011. The numbers highlight the fact that the federal initiative needs to be renewed, Cunningham said, adding it has been a key contributor to the decrease in smoking rates.”From Health Canada’s perspective, it’s probably one of the most successful initiatives among everything they’ve done,” he said.The anti-smoking crusade will need to be supported at other levels of government as well, Cunningham said, adding municipal bans on smoking in restaurants and workplaces have also been powerful deterrents.Tougher sanctions on outdoor smoking may help narrow the gap between the number of male and female smokers in Canada, he said.The Statistics Canada study found the smoking rate among men was 20 per cent, six percentage points higher than theirfemale counterparts. Cunningham speculated the discrepancy could partially be explained by the fact that smoking is still allowed in outdoor environments, such as construction sites, which are largely occupied by a male workforce.Efforts also need to be focused on discouraging youth from turning to alternative tobacco sources that did not exist a few years ago, he said.”Ten years ago there was no such thing as flavoured cigarellos, but they emerged as a threat,” he said. “There are still other types of flavoured tobacco products that are out there such as water pipes, so that needs to be addressed.”
The survey found provincial smoking rates were lowest in British Columbia at 14 per cent. Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Manitoba all shared the highest rate of 21 per cent.Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called the findings of the survey “encouraging.”In a statement, she said she’s particularly impressed by the drop in smoking among youth.