Stalled smoking rates create concern

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(File photo by Nick Lachance)

Smoking rates in Canada have stalled after years of declining, according to a 2013 study published by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact.

Approximately 4.9 million Canadians reported that they were current smokers in 2008 — a number that saw no significant change in 2011.

David Hammond, associate professor in the faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, was one of the researchers involved in the study.

“Many more women in Canada die from smoking and lung cancer than they die from breast cancer, but we really don’t hear much discussion and it sounds like an old story,” Hammond shared.

“The reason why it matters is because it’s still one of the leading causes of death.”
Hammond explained that Canada was considered a world leader in terms of policy regulation on smoking for many years.

“We were the first country to put those warnings on packs,” he said. “One of the first to ban those power wall displays in stores or to regulate advertising; but relatively little has been done in the last three or four years.”
While the smoking rates have not been increasing, Hammond was concerned by the results of the study.

“We haven’t really seen too much in the way of new policies or regulations from the government and that may be behind the slow-down,” Hammond said.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in Canada. More than 37,000 Canadians will die this year as a result of smoking-related illness.

Jenna Yost, a fourth-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University disagreed that the reason for the stall in smoking rates was a result of a lack of government attention.

“I don’t agree that there is not enough focus on the negative side effects by the government,” Yost explained. “On all of the packages they have pictures and facts of the negative side effects of smoking, as well as organizations and programs that provide you with free nicotine gum packages for six months,” she added.

The study indicated that the highest smoking rates are among young adults aged 20-34.

Hammond believes that one of the driving forces behind tobacco use in this age demographic is the appeal of weight loss associated with smoking cigarettes.

“Trying to stay thin or stop yourself from gaining weight is one of the biggest reasons for smoking,” he said. “I think young adults are people who are particularly concerned about their figure so that may be one reason why you see such a high rate.”

Hammond was also concerned that certain cigarette brands continue to market their product to younger consumers. Certain tobacco companies offer ‘super slim’ cigarettes, a brand that may be enticing for someone motivated by weight loss.

“I wouldn’t say that public health has done a really good job in engaging young adults,” Hammond added.
Lindsay Taylor is the assistant manager of communications and programming at Leave the Pack Behind, a student organization aimed at decreasing smoking rates among Canadians.

“Speaking about the young adult age group in particular, what we know is that although prevalence rates have not dropped significantly over the past few years, they have dropped significantly compared to a decade ago,” Taylor said.

She explained to The Cord that the smoking prevalence among young adults in Ontario was 34 per cent in 1999, compared with 18 per cent today.

“One of the main reasons why smoking rates among young adults are not dropping as much as we would like may be because young adults are the least likely of all age groups to be offered evidence-based cessation aids in healthcare settings, like nicotine replacement therapy,” Taylor continued.

Taylor also commented on the availability of inexpensive, contraband cigarettes as a possible reason for the stagnancy of smoking rates.

When asked about his predictions for future rates of smoking in Canada, Hammond mentioned the emergence of electronic cigarettes.

He believes that people are using them for a variety of reasons; some use them to quit, some use the, to replace.

“So I think that’s sort of the wild card out there, no one really knows if these things are going to have any impact,” Hammond said. “It’s possible that they could have a positive public health impact and it’s possible that they could have a negative one.”

“But that market is just kind of taking off right now and I think that it’s likely to have some impact on smoking rates, we just don’t know what.”

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