Cigarettes “Going Up In Smoke”?

The days of cartoon camels and major events involving big tobacco are gone. They’ve been replaced by dire warnings and graphic images in an effort to curb smoking.  But have all of these changes had any effect on the amount Canadians smoke?

The short answer is yes.

Over the past 15 years, governments at both the federal and provincial levels have redoubled their efforts to effectively wipe out tobacco use across the country but the history of tobacco regulation actually dates back more than 100 years.

In 1908, the Tobacco Restraint Act first made it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 16. For the next 80 years, the government essentially handed off when it came to tobacco use. Smoking rates rose to the point where, by the mid-twentieth century more than 60 percent of men in the country aged 15 and over smoked, and more than 40 percent of women.

In 1988, the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act was enacted to replace the Tobacco Restraint Act and make it more difficult for young people to buy cigarettes. The legal age to sell was upped to 18, vending machines were banned and it became required for manufacturers to label tobacco products with warnings.

In 2000, the government really got serious about packaging when they forced manufacturers to display one of 16 new health warnings that covered half a pack of the cigarettes. The new warnings contained graphic images and stark warnings such as: “Tobacco use can make you impotent,” or “Cigarettes hurt babies.”

Canada became the first country in the world to use these types of graphic images. They were also the first to ban the use of flavours like chocolate and bubblegum in little cigars, cigarettes, and blunt wraps.
In 2001 the federal government launched the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy, a comprehensive anti-smoking policy that remains in effect today.

Under the policy, the government also made it mandatory for tobacco manufacturers to report on sales data, research and promotion activities, product ingredients and toxic components.
Under the rules, Canada also became the first country to have a national standard to reduce the fire risk of cigarettes.

Many communities, provinces, and territories also subsequently adopted smoking bans in public spaces. In fact, nearly 100% of indoor public places across the country, like restaurants, hockey arenas, and shopping malls, are now smoke-free.

The results speak for themselves – the smoking rate in the country is now at its lowest ever recorded. The latest data indicates 15% of Canadians currently smoke, down from 22% in 2001.

More Canadians have also quit smoking. According to government stats, roughly 63% of Canadians who have ever smoked have quit, up from 52% in 2001.  Rates of daily smoking are now down to 12 percent of Canadians, and youth smoking has hit an all-time low (7% of teens aged 15-17 are current smokers-down from 18% in 2001).

Despite the progress, smoking remains the most preventable cause of disease and premature death in Canada.Every year, 37,000 Canadians die from tobacco use. It’s estimated that smoking costs Canadian taxpayers more than $17 billion annually (including $4.4 billion in direct health-care costs).

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