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The percentage of the Canadian population that smokes cigarettes has been dropping steadily since anti-smoking efforts began in earnest in the 1970s. In 1965, 49 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 smoked. Sixty-one per cent of males smoked while 38 per cent of females indulged in the habit.

The latest Statistics Canada figures show smoking rates are fairly stable. In 2010, 20.8 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and over — about six million people — were smokers. Five years ago, there were 5.9 million smokers or 22 per cent of the population. In 2003, 23 per cent of Canadians aged 12 or older, smoked.

Canadian smokers at a glance

  • People age 18 to 34 form the highest proportion of smokers, at 28 per cent.
  • More men than women smoke. In 2010, 24.2 per cent of males and 17.4 per cent of females smoked. That's a jump from the 22.6 per cent of men who smoked a year earlier — and about the same as the rate in 2008. The percentage of women who smoked in 2010 remained about the same in 2010 and 2009, but was down significantly from the 18.5 per cent who smoked in 2008. 
  • In 2009, smoking rates were lowest in British Columbia and Ontario, at 16 per cent and 18.6 per cent. That compares to 20.5 per cent and 24.5 per cent in those provinces in 2000.
  • Smoking rates in the territories are high: 35.5 per cent in Yukon, 35.7 per cent in Northwest Territories and 61.3 per cent in Nunavut. Smoking rates rose in Nunavut and Yukon in the first decade of this century.
  • Overall, the percentage of Canadians over the age of 12 fell by 22 per cent between 2000 and 2009.

Smoking facts and figures

  • The lowest smoking rates are among youths aged 12-15 (three per cent) and seniors (9.6 per cent).
  • Almost 60 per cent of senior non-smokers are former smokers. Just under 11 per cent of non-smokers between the ages of 12 and 19 are former smokers.
  • In 2009, just over 50 per cent of people between the ages of 20 and 24 had never smoked.
  • In 2001, 73 per cent of youth said they never smoked cigarettes. In 2005, the percentage rose to 82 per cent. This finding is key because most smokers start before age 18, and research shows that it is rare for adults to take up smoking.
  • Non-smokers are exposed to less second-hand smoke. On the whole, non-smokers are exposed to smoke to a lesser extent. The rate of second-hand smoke exposure has traditionally been highest among 12-19 year olds. In 2010, about 15 per cent of them were exposed to second-hand smoke in the home. That's down significantly from the 23 per cent who were exposed in 2003.
  • More homes are smoke-free. More and more households are banning smoking from their homes. In 2005, 64 per cent of people 12 and older lived in a smoke-free household, up from 57 per cent in 2003.
  • More workplaces are smoke-free. Between 2001 and 2003, the percentage of Canadians who had a smoking ban at work rose from 62 per cent to 67 per cent. In 2005, this rose to 68 per cent.
  • Smoking bans, at home or at work, reduced the amount of cigarettes smoked. Of employed Canadians aged 15 to 75, the average number of cigarettes smoked was related to smoking bans:

Source: Statistics Canada: Canadian Community Health Survey 2005, 2011