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Canada's teenagers less likely to smoke now than in 1999

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 19 August 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:420
  1. David Spurgeon
  1. Quebec

    Smoking among Canadians aged 15-19 years dropped from 28% in 1999 to 18% in 2003. But smoking among young adults aged 20-24 remained at 30%—the highest for any group of young people, and this group is the major target for tobacco advertising.

    These are findings of the Canadian tobacco use monitoring survey, conducted by the federal health department. Its primary objective is to track change annually in smoking status and amount smoked, especially in 15-24 year olds, who are most at risk for taking up smoking. The survey, which began in 1999, collected data for 2003 from more than 21 300 respondents from February to December of that year (

    More than five million people, representing about 21% of the population aged 15 years and older, were smokers for the period of the latest survey. Of these, 17% reported smoking daily. About 23% of men and 18% of women were current smokers.

    The 2003 data also showed that 12% of 15-19 year olds reported daily smoking and 7% occasional smoking. Slightly more teenage girls reported smoking than boys (20% v 17%), but among daily smokers, boys smoked slightly more cigarettes a day than girls (13 v 11.7). In young adults aged 20-24 years, slightly more men than women smoked daily (23% v 19%).

    Francis Thompson, a policy analyst for the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, said: “Tobacco companies are certainly putting more effort into advertising for older age groups—particularly the university crowd,” adding that “Nobody starts to smoke beyond the age of 25, but addiction can begin [at any time].”

    Sharon Lawler, codirector of Leave the Pack Behind, which advises Ontario's university and college students on avoiding smoking, says that tobacco companies focus advertising on this group by subtly sponsoring events at bars and clubs, often having “cigarette girls” hand out free samples of their product.

    She and other antismoking spokespeople and those from the federal government see increasingly harsh provincial and municipal smoking laws having an effect on young people's smoking habits. But they regard the tobacco industry's advertising practices as insidious.

    In 2003, smokers were asked about visits with health professionals. Seventy one per cent of smokers had seen a doctor in the year before the survey, and just over half of these (53%) were advised to reduce or quit smoking. Sixty per cent were given information on aids to quit smoking or on counselling programmes. For those 45 years or older who had seen a doctor, 60% were advised to quit smoking, but only 24% of 20-24-year-olds were advised to.

    For the first time this year some questions about marijuana use were included in the survey. The results showed that 35% of Canadians had tried marijuana, including 42% of men and 28% of women.

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