Canadian smoking survey finds kids still ignoring warnings

Between 1994 and 2002, the rate of smoking among Canadian youths in Grades 5 to 9 declined by more than half, according to new data from the Youth Smoking Survey.

However, girls are smoking slightly more than boys, and young people are still ignoring the warnings on cigarette packages about hazards to their health. In addition, the majority of Grade 7 to 9 smokers had tried either marijuana or alcohol.

The survey found that in 2002, just under 3% of youths in Grades 5 to 9, or an estimated 54,000 youths, reported that they were current smokers. That is, they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days and have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. This compares with 7% in the same grade levels eight years earlier.

Almost 6 out of every 10 of the young people who smoked in 2002 indicated that they did so on a daily basis.

Since 1994, the rate of current smoking has declined by about the same amount for both boys and girls. But the rate among girls continues to be slightly higher than boys in terms of both current and experimental smoking. More than one-half (56%) of current smokers in 2002 were girls, virtually the same proportion as in 1994.

Smoking rates down in all the provinces

As in 1994, Quebec's current smoking rate in 2002, about 6%, was the highest of all the provinces. More than half (55%) of all young people who smoked lived in Quebec.

However, rates for current smoking declined in all provinces. The largest decrease was in Ontario, followed by Alberta and British Columbia.

In terms of experimental smoking, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario showed the largest decline. An experimental smoker is one who has smoked at least one cigarette, but fewer than 100 in his or her lifetime, and smoked in the past 30 days.

The proportion of young people who were experimental smokers decreased from 7% to 4% between 1994 and 2002. As in the case of current smokers, the largest number of experimental smokers lived in Quebec in 2002.

The rate of current smoking increased with grade level, with the bulk of current smokers in Grades 7 to 9. Current smokers made up only 2% of the student population in Grade 7, and 4% in Grade 8. However, this proportion rose to 8% in Grade 9. The pattern was similar among experimental smokers.

Percentage of youth who smoked in the past 30 days, by province
1994 2002
Newfoundland and Labrador 14.6 9.9
Prince Edward Island 12.8 5.9
Nova Scotia 13.2 8.0
New Brunswick 12.5 8.0
Quebec 19.4 12.2
Ontario 10.6 3.3
Manitoba 12.4 6.4
Saskatchewan 13.8 6.6
Alberta 12.5 4.3
British Columbia 12.5 3.9
Canada 13.6 6.2

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people reported that peer pressure was one of the main reasons for starting smoking. Indeed, having close friends who smoke seemed to go along with reported smoking behaviour.

Percentage of youth who smoked in the past 30 days, by grade
1994 2002
Grades 5 and 6 4.1 1.2
Grade 7 13.0 5.9
Grade 8 19.7 9.2
Grade 9 25.8 13.6
Total 13.6 6.2

The number of close friends who smoked was higher for both experimental and current smokers than for those who have never tried smoking.

Most smoking youth have parents who smoke

Over two-thirds of current smokers reported that their father or mother smoked. In contrast, only about one-third of children who had never tried smoking reported that either parent smoked. In addition, parents were the usual source of cigarettes for 18% of current smokers.

Nearly 60% of all smokers reported that they obtained their cigarettes from social sources, that is, siblings, parents, or family members, or they bought them from a friend or someone else.

Most students reported having been taught at school about the negative consequences of smoking, and listed various health problems that can occur after years of smoking.

The vast majority (91%) of current smokers reported having seen warnings printed on cigarette packages, and nearly 75% reported that they believed these warnings.

However, only about one-third of current smokers were inclined to agree with the presence of such health warnings on cigarette packages, compared with 83% of those who never tried smoking.

School performance lower among smokers

The survey found an apparent relationship between school performance and smoking behaviour.

Only 12% of current smokers rated themselves as doing better than average in school compared with their classmates, in contrast to 40% of students who never tried smoking.

And while 28% of current smokers considered themselves to be below-average students, among those who never tried smoking, only 6% rated themselves that low.

In addition, fewer current smokers indicated that they read for fun than those who had never tried smoking in 2002.

For example, 40% of current smokers indicate that they almost never read for fun, compared with 13% of children who never tried a cigarette.

Majority of smokers have tried marijuana and alcohol

The survey also looked at the use of alcohol and marijuana among students in Grades 7 to 9. Of all youth who were either current or experimental smokers, 75% had tried marijuana. Among those who had never tried smoking cigarettes, only 3% had ever tried marijuana.

The use of alcohol among current or experimental smokers was also higher than that for youth who had never tried smoking cigarettes.

For those who were either currently smoking or had experimented with cigarettes, 92% had tried alcohol, compared with 40% of youth that had never smoked.

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