Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 3 - November 2010
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20% prevalence among adults (12 and older)

The number of smokers in Canada declined slightly in 2009

By Pierre Croteau

According to the most recent data contained in Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), published on June 15, there were 278,900 fewer smokers in 2009 than in 2008 within the Canadian population aged 12 years and older.

In total, 5,730,300 people aged 12 years and older smoked in 2009, according to the CCHS.

After what seemed to be a levelling off in 2007 and 2008, the prevalence of smoking in the country resumed its slow downward trend, where 23% of Canadians aged 12 years and older smoked in 2003, compared to 20.1% in 2009.

An uneven decline: a once-over

Behavioural evolution from one year to the next is sometimes indiscernible. However, when one compares the observations of the CCHS in 2009 with those made six years earlier, cigarettes have clearly lost ground with those aged 12-44 and with those aged 65 years and older, whereas this has not been the case with men and women aged 45-64.

Among Canadians aged 12-19, the prevalence of smoking dropped from 14.9% in 2003 to 11% in 2009. This improvement is due, above all, to the remarkable drop in the rate among teenage girls, from 15.3% to 9.8% in that same six-year span, while the prevalence of smoking among teenage boys has decreased from 14.4% to 12.2%. The availability of cheap tobacco products through contraband did not reverse the trend.

Faces of active smoking

In 2009, male smokers were proportionately more than their female counterparts in all age groups, without exception.

Within the population aged 20-34, there are still 29.9% of men and 23% of women who smoke regularly. This amounts to 1,765,300 smokers, almost five times the number of smokers aged 12-19. The highest proportion of smokers (26.5%) is found among individuals aged 20-34.

Conversely, the 12-19 age bracket (11%) and those 65 years and older (9.6%) smoke less proportionately. The strong preponderance of non-smokers at either end of the age spectrum does not, however, come from the same cause.

Smoking prevention efforts can be credited with the encouraging results among young adolescents. Overall, with Canadians aged 12 years and older, there has been a slow increase in the proportion who have never smoked in their lives. Thus, 47% of men and 54% of women aged 20-24 in 2009 had never smoked, which, according to Statistics Canada, is almost the same amount of people they classify as very unlikely to become dependent on tobacco throughout the rest of their lives.

As for the low prevalence of smoking among persons aged 65 years and older, part of the reason is due to the fear of the ill effects of tobacco, which has notably transformed a number of former smokers into non-smokers. Another explanation relates to the premature deaths that have occurred among smokers.

Disparities among regions

The 2009 smoking rates for Canadians 12 years and older are far from being identical across the various territories and provinces.

The only provinces with smoking rates lower than the Canadian average (20.1%) are British Columbia (16%) and Ontario (18.6%). It is also in these provinces that the improvement was the greatest compared to 2003.

Nova Scotia and Alberta currently show the worst performance among the provinces, at 23.3% each.

The situation is markedly worse north of the 60th parallel. The Yukon and Northwest Territories both have a smoking prevalence above 35%. Nunavut has the greatest obstacle to overcome in the country, as 61.3% of its population aged 12 years and older smoke.

Passive smoking at home

Among the non-smoking population aged 12 years and older, fewer individuals have reported smoke exposure emitted by someone in the home in 2009 (6.2%) than in 2003 (10.6%).

From 2003 to 2009, the proportion of involuntary smokers in the home decreased a little more rapidly among individuals aged 20 years and older than among adolescents.

Boys and girls aged 12-19 are most often the age group to breathe second-hand smoke emitted by someone in the home. The proportion of non-smoking adolescents exposed to second-hand smoke (15.1%) is almost two-and-a-half times greater than the average recorded for non-smokers aged 12 years and older.

Passive smoking in public places

From 2003 to 2009, the number of individuals exposed to secondary tobacco smoke in public places decreased as various smoking bans were brought into effect in all regions of the country.

In 2003, 19.7% of individuals aged 12 years and older surveyed said they had been exposed to secondary tobacco smoke in a public place during the month preceding the call or visit by Statistics Canada researchers. In 2009, this proportion was 10%.

According to the CCHS, 2.26 million Canadians continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke, willingly or not, in public places. Notably, this number includes waiters and waitresses on restaurant terraces.

The Statistics Canada data also shows that the adolescent population has a greater exposure than adults to secondary tobacco smoke in public places, notably in outdoor areas.  In 2009, 18.1% of Canadians aged 12-19 stated that they had found themselves in this unhealthy situation.


CTUMS: Daily smokers consume more cigarettes per day as they get older, but fewer in number than in 2003


In 2009, on average, daily smokers aged 15-19 consumed 11.4 cigarettes per day, while this number was 12.9 when they were aged 20-44 and 16.3 among daily smokers aged 45 years and older. 


The good news, albeit slight, is that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day among daily smokers aged15 years and older was 15.9 in 2003, decreasing to 14.5 in 2009.  Moreover, in the same period, all of the reduction observed in the number of current smokers aged 15 years and older is attributable to the decrease in the number of daily smokers.


This closer look at the behaviour of smokers is provided by the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS), conducted by Statistics Canada, just like the CCHS, but delivered to Health Canada and

held for additional analysis. The 2009 CTUMS annual results were released on September 27.

The 2009 CTUMS shows that the proportion of daily smokers among the population aged 15 years and older was at its highest among people aged 23-24.  Moreover, the prevalence of daily smoking among older age groups declined slowly and unevenly, while the prevalence of non-daily smoking declined faster and more regularly, suggesting that non-daily smokers were more successful in quitting.


Those patterns could be associated with another interesting factor: as many as 67.8 % of daily smokers aged 15-19 attempted to quit at least once in the past 12 months, while this proportion dropped to 55.3% among daily smokers aged 20-24 and dropped again to 43% among those who are 25 years and older, reaching its lowest numbers among daily smokers aged 45 years and older at 37%.

The CTUMS also reveals that only 36.2% of current cigarette smokers aged 15 years and older had never tried marijuana, while 74.5% of people who have never smoked tobacco also had never tried marijuana.


Two surveys, one observation


Contrary to the CTUMS, carried out twice a year and based on telephone interviews of about 10,000 people aged 15 years and older in all 10 Canadian provinces, the CCHS is administered once a year, drawing on a sample of 65,000 individuals aged 12 years and older, who are questioned on the telephone or visited at home in all 10 provinces and three territories.


All the questions asked on tobacco use within the CCHS survey are the same as those in the CTUMS, but the results differ as the methods used by Statistics Canada to probe the population are different for each survey.


The CCHS, which has been administered since 2001, occasionally includes questions on tobacco usage since 2003 and generally produces estimates of smoking prevalence rates that are higher than those of the CTUMS.


The CTUMS and the CCHS, however, reveal identical trends in the health of Canadians: tobacco usage has fallen slowly in recent years and has never been lower.