Canadian Lung Association: Canadians Still Smoking Around Kids

New study shows that many Canadians do not understand the impact of smoking on the development of lung disease for themselves or those exposed to second hand smoke

December 13, 2010 – Ottawa, ON – A new study from the Canadian Lung Association shows a surprising 35 per cent of smokers still smoke indoors when a non-smoker is present and 18 per cent do so around a child.”It is very disturbing to learn that people are still smoking around children, in the home or in a vehicle” says Dr. Shannon Walker, a respirologist associated with the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study. “Children are more vulnerable to second-hand smoke because they breathe at a faster rate and their bodies absorb more pollutants to their lungs than adults.

The study, published today in the Canadian Respiratory Journal, also reveals that eight per cent of smokers say they smoke in cars with children present where the exposure to harmful effects is even higher.

More than one-third of non-smokers surveyed said they were exposed to tobacco smoke at home or in a car. It is estimated that more than 1000 Canadians die each year of COPD, lung cancer and other lung and heart diseases as a result of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke.i

In Canada, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, claiming the lives of 20,500 Canadians in 2009.ii This disease is strongly linked to tobacco smoke exposure.

“While people seem to understand the risk between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, they are less aware of the risk of smoking and other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” says Dr. Walker, who is also a member of the Canadian Thoracic Society.

The study reveals as many as 60 per cent of persons, who are at risk for COPD have little to no knowledge at all of the disease or its risk factors. “In fact, 27 per cent of persons at risk for developing COPD did not know or agree that the main cause of COPD was tobacco smoke exposure,” says Dr. Walker. “COPD is a tremendous burden to Canadian health. The broad lack of knowledge about COPD and its risk factors impedes efforts to recognize, reduce or eliminate this disease from our population. Approximately 20 per cent of smokers or ex-smokers over the age of 40 may have COPD, but this disease requires spirometry, a simple breathing test, to confirm the diagnosis.”

Health risks from smoking cigarillos and marijuana

“The study shows that people are very aware that smoking a pack of cigarettes for 10 years or more puts them at a high risk for lung cancer. However, people are less aware of the risks associated with exposure to radon, smoking cigarillos and smoking marijuana,” says Dr. David Saltman, an oncologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland and a co-author of the study.

In fact, cigarillos contain the same chemicals as the smoke from regular cigarettes in Canada and contribute to lung disease and cancer.iii Marijuana smoke has some of the same toxic substances that are found in tobacco smoke that can cause cancer.iv

True Burden of Lung Disease Not Well Understood

“What this study shows us is that Canadians don’t understand their risk for lung disease,” says Brian Graham, chair of the Chronic Disease Working Group for the Canadian Lung Association. “Part of the problem is that some lung diseases have odd names, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, that don’t roll off the tongue easily. Some people may know it as COPD, some as chronic bronchitis and others may know it as emphysema,” explains Graham. “If they don’t recognise the name of the disease, how can we expect them to know if they are at risk?”

For example, as many as 3 million Canadians are estimated to have COPD but of those as many 1.6 million may have the disease but are undiagnosed, according to estimates from The Canadian Lung Association.v “It’s difficult to get a true picture of the burden of lung disease when many people are undiagnosed,” he adds.

Other findings from the study on risk awareness and lung disease revealed:

• Fifty per cent of people at risk for sleep apnea, a serious respiratory problem that interrupts breathing during sleep, are unaware that weight reduction is helpful in those who are overweight.
• 50% of Canadians say they snore heavily, yet many of these persons may not be aware that they are at increased risk for sleep apnea.
• Only one in five Canadians, at risk for either lung cancer, COPD or sleep apnea, think they need to take better care of the themselves.

About this Study

This study was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the National Lung Health Framework to explore risk factors for major lung disease in Canada in a population group most at risk. The survey was conducted by Leger Marketing for the Canadian Lung Association between April 12 and 16th, 2010 and was based on telephone interviews and internet surveys with a representative sample of 3,036 Canadians (18 years and over). A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of ±1.8 per cent, in 19 out of 20 samples. The survey advisory committee comprised members of the Canadian Lung Association, Lung Cancer Canada, National Aboriginal Health Organization, Memorial University, Canadian Thoracic Society, COPD Patient Network and Leger Marketing.

About The Canadian Lung Association

Established in 1900, The Canadian Lung Association is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs, and advocacy on lung health issues.

The Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) is a specialty society and the medical section of the Canadian Lung Association (CLA). The CTS promotes lung health by supporting the respiratory community through leadership, collaboration, research, education and advocacy, and by promoting the best respiratory practices in Canada. The CTS also advises the CLA on scientific matters and collaborates with it on achieving its vision of “all people free of lung disease.”


i Vzoris N, Lougheed MD. Secondhand smoke exposure in Canada: prevalence, risk factors, as association with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Can Respir J 2008;15(5):263-69.
ii Canadian Cancer Society’s Steering Committee: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2009. Toronto: Canadian Cancer Society. 2009
iv Health Canada :
v Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Canada.

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