Youth smoking in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan rates are slowly declining. /image: Haey Klassen

Saskatchewan rates are slowly declining. /image: Haey Klassen

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of youth smokers in Canada

Article: Alec Salloum – News Writer

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC), a Health Canada funded non-profit organization, recently released a report titled Population Health in Canada’s Largest Cities. The national report placed Saskatchewan first for provincial percent of smokers and, more alarmingly, youth smokers.

Considering we already have the third highest rate of new cases of cancer and cancer related deaths, by percentage, this new statistic is troubling.

It is almost impossible to meet someone who has not had some encounter with cancer, from a friend to a family member; most of us have some encounter with the disease. Considering that one third of cancers can be entirely prevented simply through not using tobacco products, you would assume even fewer people would smoke than who currently do.

In fact, Saskatchewan has had a poor history with high smoking rates. Saskatchewan has held the title of being the heaviest smoking province for the past decade. Granted, our rate of youth smokers has been declining, but slowly. In fact, we are down .5 per cent since 2011. And even more astonishing, since 1999 our smoking rates among youths has dropped nearly 10 per cent.

However, Saskatchewan is still three per cent above the national average. The national average of Canadians reporting daily or occasional smoking is 20.3 per cent of any given province. However, in Saskatchewan, 23.3 per cent of the population smokes. This translates to approximately 25,800 people. Of this approximate figure, 20.2 per cent are teenagers, resulting in the 1:5 statistic that has been prevalent in the coverage of this story. It is important to note that these statistics pertain to people aged 15 to 19 years old, though CPAC gathered information on Canadians as young as 12 years old.

When presented with all this information the simple question of ‘why’ is likely on most of our minds. When posed with this question, Tyler McMurchy, of the Ministry of Health, said, “It’s difficult to say exactly why.  We know that the numbers are higher than we’d like, but we’re also encouraged by the fact that the number of people smoking is decreasing, albeit slowly.  Saskatchewan’s overall smoking rate is the lowest it’s ever been and we’re continuing to work on reducing the number of people who use tobacco.”

[pullquote]“Tobacco is a learned behavior. Young people learn the habit from friends and family…so it’s important for them to get the message that it’s better not to smoke.”[/pullquote]

When attempting to explain why rates are so high one might look at cost. The Non-Smokers Rights Association (NSRA) compiles an annual list of the price of cigarettes in each province. As of 2013, Saskatchewan has the third highest cigarette prices across all provinces.

When questioned, teenage smokers from Campbell Collegiate seemed ambivalent to the matter. Most cited their habit as being related to social interaction with peers. This seems to be the main reason teens start smoking, seeming intrinsic to certain youth cultures and high school life. In fact, a small courtyard on the side of the school is dubbed the “smokers corner”.

McMurchy and the Ministry are aware of this trend, “Tobacco is a learned behavior. Young people learn the habit from friends and family…so it’s important for them to get the message that it’s better not to smoke”. The reason so much attention is given to youth smoker rates is because youth smokers sustain their habit well into adulthood.

To combat this, the Ministry has implemented a litany of legislation focused on quelling the high smoking rates. From banning tobacco on school grounds, limiting sales of cigars, smoking regulations in cars, coverage of smoking cessation drugs and most recently, a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products, a favorite among youth smokers. Our high rates have been steadily declining and given the efforts made by the Ministry and other organizations, this trend will likely persist.

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