This week we celebrate National-Non Smoking Week in Canada. NNSW started in 1977 in an effort to educate people about the dangers of smoking, prevent people from starting smoking, help smokers quit, and generally work towards a smoke-free society.
To take back the words of a tobacco campaign of that time, We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Just over the last 20 years, Ontario has significantly cut smoking rates:
- 17.4% of Ontarians 18 and over currently smoke, down from 25% in 2000.
- Teenagers aren’t taking up smoking— among youth ages 12-18 only 2.7% smoke, down from 11.2% in 2000.
We have protected people from second hand smoke by creating a multitude of smoke-free spaces. You just have to watch a movie or show set in past decades to see how weird it looks when someone lights up a cigarette in an office, on a plane, or right at the dinner table in a restaurant. We really have made huge strides towards a smoke-free society.
Yet smoking still kills about 13,000 Ontarians each year. They die from cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory disease caused by smoking. Smoking remains the single greatest cause of avoidable disease and premature death in the province. The cost to the health care system in Ontario alone is estimated to be over $2 billion per year, let alone the cost to individuals and families who are dealing with smoking related illness and death.
Public Health’s Role
Public Health works with community and regional partners to prevent tobacco initiation, protect people from secondhand smoke, enforce the Smoke Free Ontario Act, and help people quit.
We work to prevent young people from starting smoking. Teens may not be smoking as much, but as they transition to young adulthood and enter the workforce or post-secondary education, the smoking rate increases (17% in 20-24 year olds). We work to prevent “social smoking” from becoming a lifelong habit. If people quit before the age of thirty they have a good chance of not developing smoking related illnesses.
Smoke-free public spaces
We work to protect non-smokers and smokers alike from the dangers of secondhand smoke. It has been quite a few years since indoor spaces became non-smoking. More recently outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, sports and recreation fields, and restaurant and bar patios must be smoke-free. As of January 1st, 2018, all hospitals in the province must have entirely smoke free grounds. Locally, Public Health has worked with municipal partners towards smoke free policies in multi-unit dwellings. Limiting spaces where people smoke not only denormalizes smoking and protects children, it encourages smokers to quit.
Making sure youth do not have access to cigarettes and tobacco product is key to prevention. We work with local retailers to make sure that tobacco is not sold to youth under 19. Enforcement officers can lay charges under the Smoke Free Ontario Act.
And to help those people who smoke to quit successfully, we work with community partners and health care providers to develop robust quit supports. Most people who smoke want to quit. Nicotine is extremely addictive and it can take many attempts to finally quit, but about 45,000 people quit successfully in Ontario every year. We work on campaigns to boost quit attempts and encourage people not to quit quitting.
Can we truly become a smoke-free society?
In 2016 experts from across Canada held a summit and proposed an Endgame for Tobacco with a goal to reach less than 5% prevalence of tobacco use by 2035. As part of the federal government’s renewal of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy, Health Canada also proposed the endgame goal of less than 5% smoking rate by 2035. Less than 5% is virtually smoke free. Can we really get there?
The answer is yes.
In 2017, the Minister of Health established the Executive Steering Committee for the Modernization of Smoke-Free Ontario. The committee released the Smoke-Free Ontario Modernization Report (PDF) outlining priorities and strategies to achieve that goal. By continuing with only the current strategies, the smoking rate will continue to drop… but it won’t drop to 5% by 2035. More needs to be done. Almost twice as many people need to quit - more than 80,000 each year for 17 years - with no more than 10,000 people starting each year. We need to build on what works and implement some new innovative strategies. There is lots of work yet to be done!
This National Non-Smoking Week, let’s take the time to celebrate how far we’ve come … and also see that the endgame for tobacco is in sight.