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Smoking Still Prevalent in Segments of Canadian Society

Ottawa, April 11, 2013—Decades of anti-smoking campaigns have steadily and successfully whittled the rate of smokers in Canada from half the population in 1965 to less than 20 per cent in 2011. On the other hand, almost five million Canadians still smoke tobacco, and the rate of decline has slowed in recent years.

A Conference Board of Canada report, Profile of Tobacco Smokers in Canada, identifies the segments of the Canadian population that have struggled to kick the habit.

“It appears that, as the saying goes, the low-hanging fruit has been picked. Further reductions in smoking will need to target the segments of our population where the smoking rate is still high – lower-income Canadians, in some blue-collar occupations and in industries such as construction,” said Louis Thériault, Director, Health Economics for the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care, which conducted the research.

“Most smokers work, so one of the best opportunities to help smokers break the habit is through smoking cessation programs in the workplace.”

By province, Quebec had the highest percentage of its population as smokers (19.8 per cent) followed by Saskatchewan (19.2 per cent) in 2011. All four Atlantic provinces had smoking rates of between 18.1 per cent and 19.1 per cent. Manitoba’s smoking rate was 18.7 per cent, while the rate dropped to 17.7 per cent in Alberta. Ontario (16.3 per cent) and British Columbia (14.2 per cent) had the lowest smoking rates in the country.

Three quarters of current smokers are employed, so the workplace is potentially an effective place to increase understanding about the health risks of tobacco and implement smoking cessation programs.

By industry employees, more than one-third of construction workers smoked in 2011 (34 per cent), followed by mining and oil and gas extraction (29 per cent) and transportation and warehousing (29 per cent). By occupation, 28 per cent of trades, transport and equipment operators smoked in 2011. Processing, manufacturing and utilities occupations had an employee smoking rate of 24 per cent, and – in what may be surprising to some – 23 per cent of management smoked.

Smoking rates are highest among lower-income Canadians. One-third of individuals making less than $20,000 smoked in 2010. In comparison, only 16 per cent of Canadians making $80,000 or more smoked.

This report, Profile of Tobacco Smokers in Canada, is the first of a three-part briefing series Smoking Cessation and the Workplace. Funding was provided by the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) and Pfizer Canada. The second briefing explores cessation programs – in particular workplace programs – and presents the results of a survey of Canadian employers on smoking cessation benefits. The third briefing builds on the Conference Board’s economic modelling expertise and past work on cardiovascular and respiratory to estimate the potential impact of reducing smoking among employees.

These reports are part of the research program of the Conference Board’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC). Launched in 2011, CASHC is a five-year Conference Board program of research and dialogue. It will delve deeply into facets of Canada’s health care challenge, including the financial, workplace, and institutional dimensions, in an effort to develop forward-looking qualitative and quantitative analysis and solutions to make the system more sustainable.

As part of the CASHC initiative, the Conference Board is hosting the Western Summit on Sustainable Health in Edmonton on May 22-23.

For more information contact

Brent Dowdall
Associate Director, Communications
[email protected]