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Health Concerns

Summary of Results of the 2010-11 Youth Smoking Survey

Background

The Youth Smoking Survey (YSS) is a school-based survey of Canadian youth in grades 6-12 (primaire 6 to secondaire V in Quebec) that captures information related to tobacco, alcohol and drug use. The YSS was initiated in 1994 and data has been collected on a biennial basis since 2002. The survey, which is funded by Health Canada and conducted by the Propel Centre from the University of Waterloo, includes 50,949 students (representing approximately 3 million youth) in grades 6-12 from all provinces except New Brunswick which declined to participate in this cycle. Examples of survey items include smoking status and the use of little cigars among students in grades 6-12, as well as past 12 month binge drinking, illicit drug use and the abuse of psychoactive pharmaceuticals among students in grades 7-12.

Research has shown that students in lower grades differ from students in higher grades on a variety of measures relating to tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Therefore, the YSS 2010-11 summary reports on two separate age groups; for tobacco use, the categories are grades 6-9 and 10-12 while for alcohol and drug use, the categories are grades 7-9 and 10-12.

Tobacco Use

Prevalence of current smokers in grades 6-9 significantly decreased between 2008-09 (3%) and 2010-11 (2%). This is the lowest rate of current smokers recorded since 1994 (8%). There was no difference in the prevalence of current smokers between male and female.

Among youth in grades 10-12, 10% reported that they were current smokers which is a significant decrease from 2008-09 (13%). There was also a significantly greater proportion of male current smokers (11%) than female current smokers (9%) within this age group.

One percent (1%) of youth in grades 6-9 and 5% of youth in grades 10-12 reported that they were current daily smokers. The mean number of cigarettes smoked by daily smokers in grades 6-9 was 8.7 cigarettes per day and 9.2 for those in grades 10-12. These findings were not significantly different from 2008-09.

Prevalence of youth who have ever tried smoking a cigarette significantly decreased between 2008-09 and 2010-11; among students in grades 6-9, prevalence decreased from 22% to 15.5% and among grades 10-12, prevalence decreased from 48% to 40%. In the YSS 1994, the first time it was measured, 45% of students in grades 6-9 reported having ever tried a cigarette. In 2010-11 this rate was 15.5% , the lowest since it was first monitored.

Among youth in grades 6-12, 74% reported that they had never tried a cigarette, not even a puff, which is a significant increase from 2008-09 when the rate was 67%.

For students in grades 6-12, the reported mean age for smoking a whole cigarette for the first time was 13.4 years.

Little Cigars

In 2010-11, 6% of youth in grades 6-9 had ever tried smoking little cigars, a significant decrease from 2008-09 (10%). Similarly, in grades 10-12, 26% of youth reported having ever tried smoking little cigars, also a significant decrease from 2008-09 (35%). As with cigarettes, prevalence of smoking little cigars does increase as grade increases, however use has declined since the previous cycle. With respect to current use, 2% of youth in grades 6-9 and 9% of those in grades 10-12 reported that they had used little cigars in the last 30 days. The prevalence of ever use and current use of this product among those in grades 10-12 is higher for males than for females.

Among youth in grades 6-9 that had ever tried smoking cigarettes, 35% had also tried smoking little cigars (this represents about 86,000 students). In grades 10-12, 56% (representing about 277,000 students) of those who had ever tried smoking a cigarette, had also tried smoking little cigars. Less then 1% of youth in grades 6-9 that had never tried smoking a cigarette had tried smoking little cigars, but for grades 10-12 students, the rate was 5%.

Flavoured Tobacco Products

The 2010-11 cycle measured past 30 day use of flavoured tobacco products for the first time. Overall, 9% (representing about 247,000 students) of youth in grades 6-12 used at least one flavoured tobacco product (which includes: menthol cigarettes, flavoured little cigars or cigarillos, flavoured cigars, flavoured bidis, flavoured smokeless tobacco and flavoured tobacco in a water-pipe) in the last 30 days.

Among youth who had ever tried smoking a cigarette, 30% (about 218,000) had used at least one flavoured tobacco product in the last 30 days, compared to only 1% (about 29,000 ) of youth who had never tried smoking a cigarette.

The prevalence of past 30 day flavoured tobacco use was highest among current smokers at 66% (about 104,000 youth). There was no statistically significant difference between males (69%) and females (62%).

Menthol cigarettes were used by 3% of students in grades 6-12 (about 89,000 youth) in the last 30 days. There was a statistically significant difference in use between students in grades 6-9 (1%) and those in grades 10-12 (5%).

Water-pipe (Hookah/Sheesha)

Overall, 6% of youth in grades 6-12 reported ever trying a water-pipe to smoke tobacco (about 176,000), while 2% (about 70,000) reported such use during the last 30 days. Among youth who had ever tried smoking a cigarette, 8% (about 61,000 ) had used a water-pipe to smoke tobacco in the last 30 days, compared to less than 1% (about 9,000 ) of youth who had never tried smoking a cigarette. The highest prevalence of past 30 day water-pipe use for smoking tobacco was among current smokers (20% or about 32,000 youth).

Youth Smoking by Province

Within provinces, the prevalence of current smokers decreased significantly since 2008-09 in British Columbia (for grades 6-9, from 3% in 2008-09 to 2% in 2010-11 and for grades 10-12, from 14% in 2008-09 to 12% in 2010-11), Quebec (for secondaire IV and V, from 17% in 2008-09 to 9% in 2010-11) and Ontario (for grades 10-12, from 12% in 2008-09 to 8% in 2010-11). There were no other statistically significant changes within provinces in current smoking rates.

In 2010-11, the percentage of youth in grades 6-9 that had ever tried smoking cigarettes ranged from a low of 9% in Ontario to a high of 24% ( for students in primaire 6 and secondaire I - III) in Quebec. Among those in grades 10-12, prevalence ranged from a low of 34% in Ontario to a high of 56% in Saskatchewan.

Access to Tobacco

Three quarters of youth (75%) in grades 6-12 who smoked in the last 30 days obtained their cigarettes from social sources (from friends or family, buy or get them from someone else, ask someone to buy for them). Although access from social sources is most prevalent (87%) among smokers in grades 6-9, a majority (71%) of smokers in grades 10-12 still reported getting their cigarettes from social sources.

The majority of experimental smokers, defined as students who smoked at least a whole cigarette in the last 30 days but has not smoked 100 or more cigarettes in their lifetime, obtained their cigarettes from social sources (86%) while 64% of the daily smokers and 69% of the occasional smokers obtained their cigarettes from social sources. Of the students who smoked at least one cigarette in the last 30 days (about 230,000 youth), significantly more females (80%) obtained their cigarettes from social sources than males (71%).

Alcohol Use

Consistent with previous cycles, questions on drugs and alcohol consumption in the 12 months preceding the survey were only asked to students in grades 7 to 12.

Although alcohol is the most prevalent substance used by students in grades 7-12 in Canada, there is a statistically significant decrease in past 12 months use between 2008-09 (53%) and 2010-11 (45%). On average, youth consumed their first alcoholic beverage at 12.8 years of age, unchanged from previous surveys.

Although one third (33%) of students reported binge drinking (i.e. five or more drinks on one occasion) in the past 12 months, this is a significant decrease from 2008-09 (39%).

The YSS 2010-11 collected data for the first time on the use of energy drinks, mixed or pre-mixed with alcohol. One in five students (21%) reported drinking such a beverage in the past 12 months.

Drug Use

Past 12 months cannabis use has significantly decreased among students in grades 7 to 12, between 2008-09 (27%) and 2010-11 (21%). Past 12 months use was higher among males (23%) than females (19%) a finding that is consistent with previous cycles. The average age of initiation to cannabis use was unchanged from previous cycles at 13.7 years of age.

Prevalence of past 12 months use of MDMA (ecstasy) (5%), hallucinogens (4%), and salvia (3%) significantly decreased compared to 2008-09 (6%, 7% and 5% respectively).

Abuse of Pharmaceuticals

The YSS collects information on the prevalence of past 12 months psychoactive pharmaceuticals abuse (i.e. sedatives/tranquillizers, stimulants, and pain relievers [opioids]). In 2010-11, 5% of students reported using psychoactive pharmaceuticals to get high, representing a significant decrease from the 2008-09 results (7%). Among the psychoactive pharmaceutical drugs surveyed, pain relievers have the highest prevalence (4%) of reported use to get high. Results indicate that a significantly greater proportion of students in grades 10-12 report pain reliever use to get high than students in grades 7-9 (5% and 3% respectively).

Information on the use of dextromethorphan, an active ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough suppressant cold medicines, was collected for the first time in 2010-11. Results indicate that five percent (5%) of students in grades 7-12 reported using dextromethorphan to get high at least once in the last 12 months.

Acknowledgement

The 2010-11 YSS is a product of the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo, and funded by Health Canada.

Reference Information

The YSS provides timely and accurate monitoring of tobacco, alcohol and drug use in school aged youth (grades 6-12). YSS provides essential input to the development policies and programs. The survey has been conducted in 1994, 2002, 2004-05, 2006-07, 2008-09 and 2010-11. The next survey is expected to be carried out during the 2012-13 school year.

For more information about the survey and/or its results, please contact Health Canada by e-mail (tcp-plt-questions@hc-sc.gc.ca), by calling the toll-free telephone number (1-866-318-1116), by fax (613-954-2377), or visit www.gosmokefree.ca.