Fewer adults smoking but youth smoking on rise: study

November 15, 1999

Fewer adults are smoking in Ontario but minors have easier access than ever to cigarettes, according to a report from the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit at the University of Toronto.

Based on results of the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, the smoking rate among students in Grades 7, 9, 11 and 13 has risen to 28 per cent this year from 22 per cent in 1991. Following a decade of decline from 1981 to 1991, smoking has increased for both young males and females.

According to the report, cigarettes have become much more accessible for minors. Since 1995, retailers have been asking fewer smokers under age 15 for photo ID when they attempt to buy cigarettes - gas stations and chain convenience stores are the worst offenders.

This report, Monitoring Ontario's Tobacco Strategy, examined smoking patterns and attitudes in the province. Researchers also found that 21 per cent of adults smoke every day, a significant decrease from 27 per cent in 1995. Just over half of adult smokers are contemplating quitting or actively preparing to quit. Men who smoke daily consume about 20 cigarettes per day, an average of four more than women.

"If we want to make a dent in the number of kids and adults smoking, we have to make tobacco products much less available," says Roberta Ferrence, director of the research unit at U of T and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). "This includes a serious increase in cigarette taxes, reducing the number and kinds of outlets where cigarettes can be purchased, getting rid of sponsorship by tobacco companies and implementing comprehensive restrictions on smoking at work and in public places."

Ferrence credits the provincial government for its efforts in tobacco control through its commitment earlier this year of an additional $10 million to the Ontario Tobacco Strategy. However, she says, public education campaigns and other programs are not likely to have a significant impact - particularly among minors - as long as cigarettes remain cheap and readily available. Despite the recent provincial tax increase on cigarettes, tobacco products are still cheaper in Ontario than anywhere else in North America, including the tobacco producing states in the U.S.

Smoking kills almost 12,000 people in Ontario each year and is estimated to cost the provincial government over $3.7 billion annually, including more than $1 billion in health care costs and $2.6 billion in loss of productivity due to premature death and disability. The results of this study will be presented at a conference of the Ontario Public Health Association taking place in Toronto. Other results from the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey were released yesterday by the CAMH.

The research unit, a province-wide network funded by the Ministry of Health, is part of U of T's Centre for Health Promotion and includes sites at the University of Waterloo and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. This report is the fifth in an annual series monitoring progress toward the objectives of the Ontario Tobacco Strategy, established by the provincial government in 1993 to provide a comprehensive program to reduce tobacco use in the province.

Other report authors are Dr. Mary Jane Ashley and Dr. Joanna Cohen of U of T's department of public health sciences, Dr. Steve Brown and Dr. Paul McDonald of the University of Waterloo, Dr. Tom Abernathy of the Central West Health Planning Information Network and Dr. Tom Stephens of Thomas Stephens & Associates.
Steven de Sousa
U of T Public Affairs
(416) 978-5949

University of Toronto

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