Results from the 2006-07 Youth Smoking Survey (YSS), for data collected during the 2006-07 school year, indicate that 2% of youth in grades 5-9 reported that they were current smokers, a slight, but statistically significant increase from 2004-051. In 2006-07, the YSS was expanded to include youth in grades 10-12, 11% of whom reported that they were current smokers.
Due to the expanded grade range, the 2006-07 YSS provided an opportunity to examine the smoking behaviour of youth in grades 5-12, a period coincident with several major milestones of social, physical and emotional development. As previously observed, students in grades 5-9 differ from students in grades 10-12 on a variety of measures relating to tobacco use and other substances. As grade increases (ie. age increases), so does the proportion of students reporting having tried a variety of tobacco products, including cigarettes, as well as alcohol and illicit substances, as does access to cigarettes from retail sources.
Although adolescence is a period of experimentation and exploration, the majority of youth in grades 5-12 have never tried smoking cigarettes, not even a puff. In grades 5-9, 82% of youth have never tried even a puff of a cigarette, unchanged from 2004-05. In grades 10-12, 52 % of youth have never tried a cigarette, not even a puff.
For youth in grades 5-9, the reported mean age of smoking a whole cigarette for the first time was 12.0 years, compared to 13.9 years for youth in grades 10-12.
In recent years, an increasing variety of tobacco products have appeared on the market, to be attractive to those youth inclined to experiment. Despite this, the prevalence of youth in grades 5-9 trying any tobacco product (cigarettes, cigars/little cigars, pipes, bidis, chewing tobacco and snuff) has stayed constant at 21% since 2004-05, with smoking cigarettes (18.5%) the most common form of tobacco product tried.
A higher proportion of youth in grades 10-12, (55%) reported trying any tobacco product (cigarettes, cigars/little cigars, pipes, bidis, chewing tobacco and snuff), compared to 29% in grades 7-9 and 7% in grades 5-6. As with younger youth, cigarettes were the most common form of tobacco product tried (48%). Although most youth try other tobacco products in addition to cigarettes, some youth do try other tobacco products exclusively, despite never having tried even a puff of a cigarette. While 48% of youth in grades 10-12 have ever tried a cigarette, only 11% are current smokers.
For youth in all grades, a greater proportion of males reported having tried all types of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars/little cigars, pipes, bidis, chewing tobacco and snuff), compared to females. For youth in grades 5-9, 19.5% of males reported having tried cigarettes, compared to 17 % of females. For youth in grades 10-12, 49.5% of males had tried cigarettes, compared to 47% of females.
The mean number of cigarettes smoked by daily smokers in grades 7-9 was 9.2 cigarettes per day and by daily smokers in grades 10-12, 9.1 cigarettes per day.2
Adolescence is often considered to be a period of experimentation and risk-taking, however little attention has been paid to the 7% of youth in grades 5-12 who report being former smokers. In 2006-07, for all grades, the proportion of former smokers is equal to or greater than the proportion of current smokers. While substantial efforts have been put into understanding the trajectory from uptake to current smoker, little is known about the path of the equal number of youth that become former smokers.
In 2006-07, the percentage of youth in grades 5-9 that had ever tried smoking cigarettes ranged from a low of 13% in Ontario to a high of 29% in Quebec, both unchanged from the 2004-05 rates.
Cigarette access from social sources continues to be a concern, as the majority (72%) of youth in grades 5 to 12 who smoked in the last 30 days obtained their cigarettes from social sources ( from friends, ask someone to buy for them, buy them from someone, and other social sources). Social sources are most prevalent among smokers in grades 5-6, (97%), and decrease in the older grades, although a majority (64%) of youth smokers in grades 10-12 still reported getting their cigarettes from social sources. Experimental smokers were more likely to obtain their cigarettes from social sources (86%) than daily smokers (59%).
Experimentation with a number of substances is apparent among youth in grades 7-9, with the most commonly reported substances to have "ever tried" being alcohol (60%), any tobacco product (29%) and cannabis (17%). Consistent with the patterns relating to tobacco use, reported use of alcohol, cannabis and all other drugs increases among students in grades 10-12, with alcohol (83%) being most prevalent, followed by any tobacco product (55%) and cannabis (43%).
Of youth in grades 7-9 that had ever tried smoking cigarettes, 52% had also tried cannabis, compared to the 5% of youth that had never tried smoking cigarettes. For youth in grades 10-12, of those that had ever tried smoking cigarettes, 72% had also tried cannabis, compared to the 17 % of youth that had never tried smoking cigarettes.
Similarly 91% of those youth in grades 7-9 that had ever tried smoking had also tried alcohol, while only 48% of those youth that had never tried smoking cigarettes had tried alcohol. For youth in grades 10-12, 95% of those that had ever tried smoking had also tried alcohol, while 71% of those who had never tried smoking cigarettes had tried alcohol.
The 2006-07 YSS is a product of the pan-Canadian capacity building project funded through a contribution agreement between Health Canada and the Centre for Behavioural Research and Program Evaluation Group at the University of Waterloo. This pan-Canadian consortium included Canadian tobacco control researchers from all provinces and provided training opportunities for university students at all levels, encouraging their involvement and growth in the field of tobacco control research.
The Youth Smoking Survey provides timely and accurate monitoring of the tobacco use in school aged children (grades 5-12). YSS contributes an essential input to the development of sound and effective tobacco control policies and programs. The survey has been conducted in 1994, 2002, 2004-05 and 2006-07. The next survey is expected to be carried out during the 2008-09 school year.
For more information about the survey and/or its results, please write the Tobacco Control Programme, Office of Research, Surveillance, and Evaluation, Health Canada, 123 Slater Street, Address Locator: 3507C, Ottawa, ON, K1A OK9, or send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Health Canada's Tobacco Control Programme website at: www.gosmokefree.ca