U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

Fewer school-aged kids are smoking, report finds

Only six per cent of high school seniors smoking now

The past five years has seen no change in the prevalence of cigarette smoking in the general population, researchers say (photo by Kenji Aryan via Flickr)

Fewer school-aged children are smoking, but the overall prevalence of cigarette smoking in the general population hasn’t changed in five years, researchers say.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy Monitoring Report was produced by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The findings were released February 12 – one day after the federal government announced a hike in tobacco product taxes that will add at least $4.00 to a carton of 200 cigarettes. 

OTRU found that smoking rates declined by five percentage points since 2000, but have now plateaued at 18 per cent. In 2010, Ontario’s Scientific Advisory Committee recommended further policy interventions, public education and interventional programs to support quitting and prevent initiation.

“Strong scientific evidence supports further prohibitions on smoking in public spaces, restricting retail availability of cigarettes and increased funding for intensive public education and media campaigns,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director of OTRU, associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and senior scientist at CAMH.

Proposed new legislation and changes in regulations about outdoor smoking and flavoured cigarettes together with renewed investments in social marketing and cessation system development indicate that the Ontario Government is attuned to the need to do more.

One important indicator for which the report demonstrates progress in reducing cigarette prevalence is the measure of past 30-day (current) smoking among school-aged youth. In 2013, only six per cent of grade 11 and 12 students had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared to 12 per cent in 2005.

The decline in youth smoking rates will likely result in a gradual overall decrease in smoking rates if more young adults are able to remain smoke-free, researchers say.

Among the report's findings:

  • 18 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 years and older are current smokers;
  • 22 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 years and older report tobacco use in the last 30 days;
  • 19 per cent of grade 12 students have used a water pipe or hookah device;
  • 7.6 per cent of Ontario smokers quit for at least 30 days in the past year, but 79 per cent relapsed, meaning that less than 2 per cent of Ontario’s smokers successfully quit each year.

U of T researchers led a webinar outlining key findings to more than 200 public health policymakers and practitioners. The report will also be presented to five provincial advisory groups coordinated by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Past reports have informed the development and adoption of new tobacco control measures.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy is a comprehensive tobacco control program involving a broad coalition of partners including provincial and local governments, boards of health, voluntary health organizations, hospitals, and universities. Primary funding for the Strategy comes from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, with direct and in-kind funding from other Strategy partners.

For the new report, researchers analyzed Smoke-Free Ontario partner program evaluations, performance reports and administrative data. OTRU’s Tobacco Informatics Monitoring System provides population-level data analysis using data from a number of key Canadian and Ontario-based surveys.

Nicole Bodnar is a writer with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.