NY Electronic Cigarettes

Health Canada said it's first national survey on e-cigarettes is to help gather information to guide next steps in regulating them. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Canada’s cigarette smoking rate reached its lowest recorded level last year at 15 per cent, but 20 per cent of young people have tried vaping, the first national survey on electronic cigarette use suggests.

In 2013, there were about 4.2 million regular smokers, and according to Statistics Canada, that's unchanged from 16 per cent, or about 4.6 million, the year before.

Daily smokers 15 and older lit up nearly 14 cigarettes per day in 2013, down from 15 the year before.

Among those aged 15 to 19, current smoking prevalence was 11 per cent or about 225,000 teens in 2013, the same as in 2012.  When Health Canada first reported on current smoking by this age group in 2011, the rate was 22 per cent.

The Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey of 14,500 people was conducted for Health Canada, and asked about the use of e-cigarettes.

Overall, nine per cent, or 2.5 million people aged 15 and older, said they had ever tried one.

"The survey includes the first national data on e-cigarette use, which will add to the growing body of knowledge Health Canada is gathering to determine next steps in regulating this product," the department said in a release.

Among those aged 15 to 19, 20 per cent, or 417,000, said they had tried e-cigarettes, as did 20 per cent of people 20 to 24 — a "substantial number," said Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society in Ottawa.

"This demonstrates the need for federal and provincial action regarding electronic cigarettes, including provincial legislation such as that brought forward in Ontario and Nova Scotia," Cunningham said in an email.

Among Canadians who said they had tried an e-cigarette, 55 per cent said it did not contain nicotine. Another 26 per cent said it did and 19 per cent were unsure.

"Approximately, one half [51 per cent, or 696,000] of current or former smokers who had ever tried an e-cigarette reported using it as a cessation aid in the past two years," the report's authors said.

The survey did not include questions about the success of using e-cigarettes to quit regular smoking.

About three per cent, or one million Canadians, reported smoking little cigars in the past 30 days. About five per cent of all cigar smokers were under the legal age to buy tobacco. A majority, 62 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 who smoked little cigars or cigarillos, chose flavoured varieties.

Other findings from the survey included:

  • About 29 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 said they had tried a water pipe or hookah.
  • Marijuana or cannabis use in the past year among those aged 15 and older was 11 per cent, or 3.1 million in 2013, compared to 10 per cent or 2.8 million the year before.

Both the water pipe and cigarillo smoking figures reinforce the need to ban flavoured tobacco, Cunningham said.