Youth smoking rates may be inching up, survey finds
TORONTO - New teen smoking statistics show efforts to keep kids from taking up the habit have stalled, the Canadian Cancer Society said Monday.
"We are very concerned that the substantial progress being made to reduce youth smoking has ended and that youth smoking is now even increasing," senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham said of the numbers contained in the 2008-2009 Youth Smoking Survey.
The study, done for Health Canada by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, is based on a survey of a representative sample of 51,000 Grade 6 to 12 students from across Canada. It is conducted every two years.
The youth smoking survey showed the rate of kids in Grades 6 to 9 who smoked in 2008-2009 had inched up a little since 2004-2005. In the most recent survey, three per cent called themselves current smokers, compared to two per cent four years earlier.
Among older teens, 13 per cent said they were current smokers compared to 11 per cent in 2004-2005.
Health Canada said in a release that the numbers do not show that more kids are smoking, because the proportion of teens who said they had never smoked remained unchanged. Instead it means that more of those who had tried smoking were smoking more frequently, rather than experimenting with the occasional cigarette.
Analysis by the cancer society, however, focused on the percentage of teens who admitted to having smoked in the previous 30 days.
Aggressive anti-smoking campaigns in the 1990s drove those figures from 19 per cent in 1994 to five per cent in 2004-2005. But since then the trend has reversed, creeping up a percentage point each year. In 2008-2009, the figure was seven per cent.
"Sure, it's only an increase from five per cent to seven per cent but the bottom line is we had been seeing very substantial declines. We're not seeing those declines and if anything, smoking is going up a bit. And that's of concern to us because we want to make continued progress to reduce youth smoking," Cunningham said from Ottawa.
He suggested cut-rate brands which can cost around $2 less per pack than regular cigarettes are contributing to the problem. The discount brand market exploded about 2003, he said, and now represents more than 50 per cent of the Canadian market.
Cunningham said governments need to raise the taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products, crack down on the sale of cheap contraband cigarettes and look at plain package requirements.
He said the federal government should also resume anti-smoking mass marketing campaigns, something Health Canada hasn't been doing for awhile.
The cancer society also expressed significant concern about cigarillos, noting use of them by teens is high, even among youth who consider themselves non-smokers.
Federal legislation barring the sale of flavoured cigarillos comes into effect on July 5.
"Cigarillo use remains a serious problem. The implementation of the retail ban on flavoured cigarillos on July 5 cannot come soon enough," Cunningham said.
"The use of candy, fruit and ice cream flavours such as chocolate, cherry, mint and vanilla has made cigarillos attractive as a starter product for kids."