Has COVID-19 caused Canadians to cut down on smoking? Expert says yes


An expert in public health and tobacco control is pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in Canada’s declining smoking rates.

University of Waterloo public health professor David Hammond said the reduction in Canadian smoking over the last year — as found by his own research as well as a recent StatCan report — was a direct result of health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and years of anti-tobacco messaging from the federal government.

According to Hammond, the declining trend was also felt by the country’s vaping industry as well, noting 2020 as one of the first years to see a levelling off in vaping among adults and kids.

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“You know, most of us are at home, quite frankly, it’s just not as cool to step outside on the porch and have a smoke with your mom as it is with your friends or vape with your mom or dad,” said Hammond.

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“So I think between health concerns about COVID, the link between smoking and vaping and maybe the increased risk of COVID severity, that has something to do with it.”

Hammond also noted several policies that Canada put in place in the past decade like standardized cigarette packaging and the banning of menthol cigarettes.

“It’s an accumulation of those things and that we just don’t have many young people taking up smoking,” he said.

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According to data from a StatCan survey of 8,112 people taken between December 2020 and January 2021, smoking saw a decline from 2019 — the most significant of which was among those aged 20 to 24 — with an overall five per cent decrease.

The March report also found the prevalence of vaping across all age groups in the past month had stayed relatively the same since 2019.

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Fourteen per cent of teenagers between 15 to 19 reported having vaped in the past month, while those aged 20 to 24 were 13 per cent. Those rates were both 15 per cent in 2019, while the monthly prevalence of vaping in ages 25 and older stayed the same at three per cent.

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The declining trend has also manifested in a decline in the country’s tobacco sales over the past few years. Monthly cigarette sales from 2010 to 2019 averaged roughly between 1.7 to 1.8 billion units, and decreased to about 1.4 to 1.5 billion from 2020 to April 2021.

Patients contracting COVID-19 have seen symptoms particularly associated with the lungs, such as coughing and shortness of breath. Smokers have been warned to be a particularly at-risk group to the disease.

While trends in the industry have been looking downward, Hammond warned vaping prevalence was in the midst of a bounce back.

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“We’re starting to see some evidence that there is a little bit of a rebound in terms of vaping,” he said. “It’s a question people are asking about cannabis use, about vaping, about what’s happening with our diet and physical activity.

“We’ve seen so many changes with COVID. Are those short-term or what’s going to be the long-term impact?”

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