Officials elsewhere want to create the first 'smoke-free generation'
As some countries move toward banning the next generation from smoking, experts here say Canada should weigh whether a similar ban could work to stop youth from picking up the habit.
Government officials in the U.K. are the latest to pitch a generational smoking ban, which would stop those who are 14 years old and younger now from ever buying cigarettes legally.
If passed, the law would mean the legal smoking age would increase by one year every year until it applies to the whole population. Officials there hope it will create the first "smoke-free generation." (new window)
- New regulations mean warnings like 'poison in every puff' will soon be on every cigarette (new window)
It would follow a similar law passed in New Zealand last year (new window), which will also limit the number of places to buy cigarettes and how much nicotine is allowed in smoked tobacco products.
The country's officials hope this law will help meet their goal of a less than five per cent smoking rate by 2025, down from the roughly eight per cent of adults (about 331,000 people) who smoked daily last year (new window).
There have been many calls for the phasing out or banning of tobacco entirely and this is one way of doing it, Michael Chaiton, senior scientist at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC's The Dose podcast (new window).
Surveys show that younger Canadians are turning to smoking less and less (new window), with three per cent (or roughly 63,000) of 15 to 19-year-olds estimated to be smokers in 2020, a drop from five per cent the year prior.
- Better enforcement needed to stop teens from vaping, says Sudbury, Ont. vape shop owner (new window)
However, the country's teen vaping rates are among some of the highest in the world (new window).
Experts who study teen smoking and vaping habits say although these smoking bans don't necessarily target vaping, a public discussion about a generational smoking ban and what that could look like in Canada is warranted.
There are lots of contextual factors that come to play that we really need to consider when we are thinking about implementing something like this in Canada, said Laura Struik, assistant professor at University of British Columbia's nursing department, who has studied teen smoking behaviours.
Those factors include things like how teens turn more now to vaping over smoking, and that many of them are already getting their cigarettes illegally through illicit markets or older people, she says.
She adds that any discussion would also need to focus on the consequences of a ban, how those would be enforced and supports to help teens quit.
David Hammond, a public health professor at the University of Waterloo and a leading Canadian youth vaping researcher, says there is no magic bullet, but laws can make a difference in smoking rates.
Obviously kids can still source them, but it makes it that much more difficult.
Why generational smoking bans?
U.K. officials say smoking is highly addictive, and since most people begin smoking in their teens, the ban on smoking for those born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, could help to drive down smoking rates.
Struik says studies show that people usually start smoking on average around 14 years old.
We don't yet know how effective a generational smoking ban might be, Chaiton says.
However, he says there are other successful cases where making it harder for people to smoke decreased the likelihood of them starting.
He points to the U.S. changing its national minimum age from 18 to 21 (new window).
We've seen that that had a significant impact on youth use of cigarettes, he said.
He says generational smoking bans like New Zealand's and the proposed one in the U.K. won't fully stop everyone from starting to smoke, but
would dramatically reduce the rate at which they start.
Nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco products, can have adverse effects on teenagers' health, from impeding lung (new window) and brain (new window) development to exacerbating mental health issues (new window).
When you are taking nicotine throughout those teenage years, throughout those key developmental stages, there are some shifts that happen, Struik said.
Treating smoking-related illnesses is a huge cost for many countries. The more recent available data shows that tobacco use cost Canada's healthcare system about $5.4 billion in 2020 (new window), with best estimates showing around 45,000 people dying each year of smoking-related illness (new window).
Does Canada need a generational smoking ban?
Chaiton says the New Zealand government's overall approach is a
really great goal for Canadian policy.
Specifically, he says their approach of reducing the number of places where people can buy cigarettes while providing smoking cessation support is really powerful in
bringing about the tobacco endgame.
Canada's federal government has a much less ambitious goal for reducing smoking compared to New Zealand. Canada is aiming for less than five per cent tobacco use by 2035 (new window), not 2025.
WATCH | Australia aims to stamp out youth vaping
Australia cracks down on youth vaping. What's Canada doing?
Australia has moved to ban vaping without a doctor’s prescription and several provinces have already banned flavoured products, but Health Canada has stalled on passing sweeping legislation.
Health Canada is currently reviewing a federal act (new window)relating to the sale and promotion of tobacco and vaping products, with public consultations underway until Nov. 3.
A Health Canada spokesperson said in a statement that the review also includes looking at policies adopted elsewhere.
Hammond says Canada has
fallen off the pace when it comes to policies related to tobacco products and smoking.
Canada is fiddling around with putting new warnings on cigarettes and sort of recycling some older proposals. Canada hasn't done much of note in some time now, he said.
Eric Gagnon, Imperial Tobacco Canada's vice-president of corporate and legal and external affairs, says the tobacco company has always supported stopping cigarettes from getting into the hands of underage people.
He adds the big issue the country needs to address with youth right now is vaping.
I don't believe that prohibition works, but education and making sure they understand these products are not for them is probably the best thing to do right now.