Around 150,000 Quebecers had cancer in 2011-2012, marking a significant increase in the number of cancer cases over the past decade — and the Quebec council on tobacco and health is sounding the alarm.

The council’s report was released Sunday, on the first day of 2014’s Quebec Tobacco-Free Week.

The report has some startling numbers. It says that in 2003, two per cent of people over the age of 35 reported having had cancer; today, it’s 3.3 per cent. That marks an increase of around 70,000 cases.

It also says that the mortality rate for people with lung cancer is around 26.7 per cent.

Bujold, Lafleur, Bergeron

Mario Bujold, Brigitte Lafleur and Dr. Céline Bergeron met with members of the media today to announce new numbers relating to the rise of cases of lung cancer and COPD, and the rising mortality rate. (CBC)

Mario Bujold, executive director of the Quebec council on tobacco and health, says there are several factors behind this increase, including an aging population and better screening for cancer.

But, Bujold says, smoking is a factor in 85 per cent of lung cancer cases, one of the most fatal forms of the disease. Last year alone in Quebec, 7,800 people were diagnosed with lung cancer and 6,300 people died from it.

“With 24 per cent of [the population being] smokers, that's 1.6 million smokers still smoking here in Quebec in 2014. That's too much,” Bujold says.

Leading cause of avoidable death

That smoking rate hasn’t budged for the past seven years, and Quebec’s smoking rate remains one of the highest in the country despite numerous anti-smoking campaigns.

On top of that, Bujold says, tobacco usage also plays a big causal role in other cancers, particularly mouth, tongue and larynx cancers, and can also cause heart problems.

“Smoking remains the main cause of avoidable death and we need to double our efforts to improve the situation,” Bujold says.

New numbers involving chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, were also released today. More than 209,000 Quebecers have the illness, up from 187,000 in 2003.

COPD is also responsible for the most number of hospitalizations in Canada related to chronic illnesses; 18 per cent of people were readmitted in the same year to hospital once after initial admittance, and 14 per cent were readmitted twice.

Bujold says lobbying the Quebec government to employ new tactics to curb smoking is becoming more urgent given the rise in mortality and the steadying of the smoking rate. He proposes increasing the price of cigarettes and restricting public tobacco use.

Actress Brigitte Lafleur is an ex-smoker and current spokeswoman for the 37th annual Quebec Tobacco-Free Week, which began Sunday and goes until Jan. 25.

She says Quebecers who want to quit smoking can get free help by calling 1-866-JARRETE (527-7383).