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Canadians want more regulations around smoking, according to poll

Will Canada raise the smoking age? New polling says public backs U.K.-style law
Cigarette Smoke Getty Images
B.C. tribunal agrees condo owner should stop smoking in apartment due to dangers of passive smoking and smoking issues.

Across the country, just over one in five Canadians (21 per cent) say they smoked tobacco over the course of the past year. Alberta and Quebec are currently home to the largest proportions of smokers (29 per cent and 26 per cent respectively), while the numbers are lower in Ontario (18 per cent), British Columbia (also 18 per cent), Atlantic Canada (17 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (16 per cent).

Similar proportions of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (20 per cent), aged 35 to 54 (22 per cent) and aged 55 and over (21 per cent) used a cigarette, cigar or pipe in the past year. A generational shift is more evident on vaping, which stands at 16 per cent across the country but climbs to 27 per cent among the youngest adults.

Earlier this year, Canada became the first country to mandate printed warning labels on individual cigarettes. Just over two-thirds of Canadians (68 per cent) agree with this guideline, while 20 per cent are opposed and 12 per cent are undecided. Public support for the federal government’s mandate reaches 74 per cent among men, 73 per cent among Canadians aged 55 and over and 72 per cent in both British Columbia and Ontario.

Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party in the 2021 federal election are more supportive of the presence of warning labels on individual cigarettes (78 per cent) than those who cast ballots for the New Democratic Party (NDP) (73 per cent) or the Conservative Party (68 per cent). Seven in ten Canadians who did not smoke in the past year (70 per cent) and just over three in five smokers (62 per cent) also think the new regulation is good.

Canada is not alone in seeking a future where smoking becomes less prevalent. The Government of the United Kingdom recently introduced legislation related to the sale of cigarettes. Under the new law, the legal age to purchase cigarettes in the United Kingdom—currently set at 18 years—will increase by one year every year. In essence, people born in or after 2009 will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes.

Almost two-thirds of Canadians (65 per cent) have a “very positive” or “moderately positive” opinion of the British law, while 21 per cent hold negative views and 14 per cent are not sure.

Canadians across the country look positively at the U.K.’s cigarette purchase regulation, including 70 per cent of those aged 55 and over, 68 per cent of British Columbians and Ontarians, and at least two-thirds of those who voted Liberal (76 per cent), New Democratic (68 per cent) or Conservative (67 per cent) in 2021.

When asked if Canada should follow suit, Canadians are supportive. More than three in five (63 per cent) think Canada should consider legislation similar to the one being implemented in the United Kingdom, while 25 per cent disagree and 13 per cent are not sure.

B.C. is ahead of all regions in expressing a desire for Canada to copy the U.K.’s cigarette purchase regulation (69 per cent), but majorities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (67 per cent), Ontario (65 per cent), Alberta (61 per cent), Quebec (58 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (53 per cent) concur. Fewer than half of smokers (46 per cent) like the idea, compared to 64 per cent among those who do not use cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

On smoking, the differences in the perceptions of voters across the political spectrum are minimal. Majorities of Canadians think the government made the right call by placing reminders of the health hazards of smoking on individual cigarettes, and a majority believe that the step that the U.K. is currently undertaking is well worth emulating in Canada.