Helping young people improve their health
About 4 in 10 of cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the health of Canadians. Policies that encourage healthy behaviours – like not using tobacco or tanning beds – are essential for cancer prevention, especially for young people.
In Canada, laws that restrict unhealthy behaviours in youth – like banning flavoured tobacco products, restricting tobacco sales and banning youth from using tanning beds – vary from province to province. Researchers need to understand how effective these laws are and let policy-makers know how to refine and improve them.
Dr Steve Manske is a senior scientist at the Canadian Cancer Society–funded Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. Dr Manske has been a strong partner for our advocates, working to bridge the gaps between research, policy and practice in this area.
At Propel, Dr Manske contributes to research programs in both tobacco control and healthy living, leveraging data collected through the School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System (SHAPES) initiative. SHAPES generates school profiles using data on students’ behaviours and attitudes related to health and education, along with information on school policies and programs. These profiles equip schools, public health organizations and communities to take concrete steps to improve the health of young people.
With the support of a grant from the Society in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Dr Manske and his colleague Dr Leia Minaker are also leading the Cancer Risk Assessment in Youth Survey (CRAYS), which is studying high school students’ use of tobacco and tanning beds over time, in addition to collecting other health-related data. This information should allow researchers to pinpoint how youth’s use of tobacco and tanning beds changes in response to existing laws and how to best support healthier behaviours. Having healthy habits at a younger age can help reduce the chance of cancer developing later in life.
In 2014, Dr Manske and his colleagues found that over half of Canadian youth who used tobacco chose flavoured tobacco products, and more than 30% of youth who had smoked in the previous month had used menthol cigarettes in that time period. The team’s work has been used across the country to advocate for laws banning flavoured tobacco, including menthol flavouring.
Dr Manske’s research program demonstrates the power of collaboration within the cancer care community, and he acknowledges the importance of contributions from researchers across Canada who support these projects. “Support from the Canadian Cancer Society effectively created the capacity to do research in cancer prevention in Canada,” says Dr Manske. “The Society’s continued commitment to cancer prevention will ensure that Canadians have healthy and productive lives.”