Who is still smoking in Canada?

Smoking rates continue to drop and have led to a decline in cancer death rates, but a sizable number of Canadians continue to light up.
Despite the notion that smoking may be more prevalent among certain demographics, the survey reveals that smoking rates don't differ all that much among some age groups and the sexes, although men still smoke more than women. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Smoking rates continue to drop and have led to a decline in cancer death rates, but a sizable number of Canadians continue to light up.

In fact, some anti-smoking advocates are concerned about the rise in popularity of new ways to smoke among young adults. 

Statistics on the number of smokers differ a bit depending on what source one uses. The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, a Statistics Canada study, puts the number of Canadian smokers somewhere around 17 per cent (or 4.7 million Canadians).

However, Neil Collishaw, research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said the more extensive Canadian Community Health Survey, also administered by Statistics Canada, says that about 20 per cent of Canadians smoke (or six million people).

"Six million smokers ain't smoke free, so we got a ways to go," said Collishaw.

As to who is smoking these days, Collishaw said that the habit continues to be general right across all age groups, both sexes and all income classes. 

Vulnerable populations

But he said that some so-called vulnerable populations, a grouping that includes aboriginal people, lower-income and less-educated Canadians, seem to have a higher rate of smoking compared with the average.

"The thing is, none of their populations accounts for a whole lot of people," Collishaw said. He said in total, a lot more middle-income and middle-class people smoke than poor people. As well, more non-aboriginals smoke than aboriginals.

Still, all of the surveys show that smoking rates are down in all the demographic groups.

According to the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, 17 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over smoke. That's down from 25 per cent of Canadians in that age range who smoked in 1999.

Broken down by gender, 20 per cent of all men and 14 per cent of all women currently smoke. Back in 1999, 27 percent of all males and 23 per cent of all females smoked.

As an indicator of how far rates have dropped, in 1965, 61 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women smoked.

Despite the notion that smoking may be more prevalent among certain demographics, the survey reveals that smoking rates don't differ all that much among some age groups and sexes.

Around 22 per cent of those aged 20-24 smoke, the survey found. The survey also found that 21 per cent of 25-34 year olds smoke, followed by 20 per cent of 35- to 44-year-olds and 19 per cent of those aged 45-54.

The smoking rates drop in the lowest and highest age ranges. Around 12 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds smoke and 11 per cent of those 55-years of age and older smoke.

There's virtually no difference in smoking rates among youth males and females (aged 15-19). But about 20 per cent of all men aged 25 and over smoke, compared to 13 per cent for women.

New ways of smoking

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said his concern is with the rise in popularity of flavoured little cigars and water pipes among young adults.

"Among the youth and young adults, these two product categories have really taken off, even though a decade ago it was essentially non-existent," he said.

He added that while new legislation banned the sale of the small cigars, the tobacco industry changed the size of the products slightly and removed the filters to comply with the new law.

Cunningham said the smoking of water pipes, which are also known as hookahs and shishas, is also "taking off among youth."

He said statistics on this are sparse but that, anecdotally, it appears that the use of water pipes appears to be growing. In one study of Montreal-area youth, 23 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds had smoked water pipes in the previous year, he said.

"That’s enormous for something that most adults have never heard of. But the indications are that it's spreading across Canada." Some restaurants and cafes are offering it to their customers, Cunningham said.