Youth cigarette smoking down, but water pipe use among teens a new concern

31 May 2012

Toronto -

A national smoking survey released today provides positive news, with smoking of cigarettes and little cigars by high school students decreasing compared to two years earlier. However, the Canadian Cancer Society is concerned about students smoking through water pipes (also known as hookah or shisha) and student smoking of cigarillos remains a significant issue.

The Youth Smoking Survey (YSS) for the 2010-11 school year found that for grades 10 to 12 students 16% had smoked cigarettes (down from 20% in the 2008-09 survey) and 9% had smoked cigarillos/little cigars (down from 14% in the 2008-09 survey). The survey also showed that 5% had smoked water pipes in the past 30 days.

“Although we are encouraged to see a decrease in youth cigarette smoking, some of the findings regarding other tobacco products are cause for great concern,” says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “A ban on flavours in all tobacco products will protect youth, will prevent water pipe smoking from worsening and will deal with the ongoing issue of flavoured cigarillos.”

Water pipe tobacco is a product category that is heavily flavoured and represents a new threat for youth to become addicted to tobacco. Water pipe tobacco comes in flavours such as apple, peach and pistachio. Many youth who are otherwise non-smokers are smoking water pipes – the YSS found that among students in grades 10 to 12 who had smoked a water pipe in the previous 30 days, fully 41% had not smoked cigarettes during the same time period.

The decrease in youth smoking of cigarillos is due to recent federal legislation (Bill C-32) banning flavoured cigarillos.

“Knowing fewer young people are smoking cigarillos is welcome and important,” says Cunningham. “However, some tobacco companies continue to sell flavoured cigarillos that weigh more than 1.4g, which avoids the legislative definition for cigarillos. This means cigarillos continue to be sold in flavours such as chocolate, peach and cherry, which are attractive to youth. As well, we are now faced with the increasing popularity of water pipe smoking, a product that may be a gateway to tobacco addiction. To respond to this continuing threat to the health of our young people, federal and provincial governments should adopt regulations to ban flavours in all tobacco products.”

The Youth Smoking Survey is conducted for Health Canada by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. The survey is conducted every two years. The May 31 release of the survey coincides with World No Tobacco Day, which is sponsored by the World Health Organization.

For more information about the Youth Smoking Survey, visit


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