A new study suggests Canadians are using tobacco products at significantly higher rates than previous generations.
In a series of interviews conducted over two decades, researchers at the University of Toronto, the University in California, and the University at Buffalo used data from the National Household Survey to investigate the health and safety of Canadians.
They found that more than two thirds of the 2,000 Canadians surveyed had used tobacco products in the past year.
“It was surprising to find that more people were using tobacco in 2015 than any other year since 1975,” says co-author Dr. Brian Wiedenfeld.
“In the 1980s, people used tobacco in much lower numbers.
Today, there’s a clear public health message about how to use tobacco responsibly.”
The research team also found that many people are still struggling with the health effects of smoking.
In fact, nearly a quarter of Canadians (23%) had quit smoking in the last year.
Wiedens study, published in the journal Addiction, found that while Canadians were smoking at a lower rate than previous decades, the prevalence of tobacco use was increasing in some key health indicators, particularly in older age groups.
For instance, the proportion of people reporting smoking a day was up from 13% in 2005 to 17% in 2015.
But the rate of tobacco consumption among Canadians aged 25-34 increased from 18% in 1975 to 27% in 2025, while those aged 65 and older experienced a 25% increase.
“The data is clear: smoking continues to be a major health concern,” says Wiedes co-director and research fellow Dr. Jeroen Brugman.
“We can’t just ignore it.
We have to act.”
While the majority of Canadians reported that they smoke tobacco, only 17% of those aged 20-24 had tried it.
By contrast, only 15% of Canadians aged 20 to 29 and 9% of the 25-to-34 age group had tried smoking.
The findings suggest that young people, who are less likely to smoke, are more likely to experiment with new ways to quit.
“People aged 30-44 are the people who smoke the most, and they are also the people that are more vulnerable to the effects of a lifetime of smoking,” Wieders said.
“And those effects are most likely to be felt by those who have experienced the first time they tried tobacco.
But, the study suggests that the more Canadians use tobacco, the more likely they are to experience adverse health outcomes. “
So these are the first people to experience the consequences of tobacco-related disease.”
But, the study suggests that the more Canadians use tobacco, the more likely they are to experience adverse health outcomes.
“This research suggests that we need to address the public health concerns that are being felt in the tobacco-using population, because there are a lot of reasons for this,” says Brugmans co-senior author and epidemiologist Dr. Anne Case.
“For example, there is evidence that smoking may be a risk factor for certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
There is also evidence that people who use tobacco may be more likely than others to develop cardiovascular disease or cancer.
These and other risks are well-documented in other studies, and yet these studies have tended to focus on people who have never smoked or who are under the age of 35.”
A recent study published in PLOS ONE found that, in a cohort of more than 4,200 people in Denmark, those who reported smoking less than once per week were at significantly lower risk for developing cancer, and for heart disease and for all-cause mortality.
The study found that those who had quit using tobacco within the past 12 months had significantly lower rates of all-cancer mortality and a higher mortality rate for lung cancer than those who were never smokers.
“Given that tobacco use is increasing among young adults, and this research suggests it will continue to do so, it is important to address these public health issues as we move forward in the development of new treatments and interventions,” says Case.
The results of the study come as the Canadian government announced a $2.2-billion tobacco-free strategy to reduce tobacco use in Canada, including a $1.4-billion fund to support youth tobacco-use programs.
The strategy aims to target young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with targeted smoking cessation support and support for those who struggle with their use of tobacco.
The federal government announced the plan last November and it was welcomed by tobacco control advocates who said it would help to cut tobacco use.
“By giving these young people the support they need, they will be able to stop smoking and begin the long road to recovery,” says Dr. Susan McKeown, a health researcher with the World Health Organization.
“While this strategy will be welcomed by those advocating against tobacco use, it will not go far enough, and it is likely to do more harm than good.”
In the U.S., however, the federal government is